2014. That date is a detail from the science fiction stories of my childhood. And here it is, and here I am at the age of 48. I have spent most of my life working with the idea of how we as humans can nurture each other, and help each other become more able to both give and receive nurturing. These days that extends to wondering how we can achieve more nurturing for all the other living things on the planet. This photo was a surprise – I took it in a hurry (as wild vervet monkeys are quick and difficult to photograph) and was not really able to see what I was taking a picture of, other than an adult monkey. It was only when I downloaded the picture onto a large screen that I saw the suckling big-eyed baby. May 2014 be full of such surprises.
I am delighted to announce the establishment of The Depth Leadership Trust. The Trust will operate with Prince Albert as its base. The overall objective of the Depth Leadership Trust is to increase the national awareness, knowledge and application of Depth Psychology principles.
The following two quotes summarise why depth psychology is important:
“The world today hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man.” CG Jung
“Whether a culture’s ‘folk psychology’, as it is called, incorporates an image of the unconscious, and what kind of image it is, makes a real difference to how life is lived.” Guy Claxton, The Wayward Mind
The detailed objectives of the Depth Leadership Trust are as follows:
- To develop awareness and understanding amongst the general population of the ideas behind depth psychology and how these ideas can be helpful in everyday living
- To conduct research into the discipline of depth psychology and its application to ordinary living, leadership and citizenship
- To develop and execute initiatives that aim to ensure the application of depth psychology in ordinary living, leadership and citizenship. In other words: to design and offer projects, interventions and activities that facilitate and enhance the integration of both the individual and collective human psyche (particularly through the expression of the unconscious mind)
- To specifically develop the knowledge and practice of depth leadership (leadership which incorporates the general principles of depth psychology) in organisations and communities
- To develop the awareness and understanding amongst the general public of the interconnectedness of all life forms, and our human role in healthy ecosystems and to support initiatives, interventions and projects that build healthy, integrated ecosystems
- To support individuals, groups, projects, and organisations that work to further any of the above objectives
Amongst others, the Trust will engage in the following main activities in order to achieve the above objectives:
- Intellectual and practical support for initiatives aligned with the Trust’s objectives
- The establishment of a physical centre in Prince Albert which has an extensive library, a meeting / class room, a reading room, and a reflection room with a sandtray and a variety of art and musical resources.
Depth Psychology Principles
Depth psychology is an evolving field which has as much disagreement within its ranks as it has agreement about general principles. The following principles are, broadly speaking, held to be true by most theorists in the field:
- Human beings have a “psyche” which carries the whole of mental life. It is the faculty for thought, feeling, memory, and imagination. The psyche is not just a combination of the body and the spirit, it has a life and language of its own.
- In addition to carrying all of our human potential, the psyche processes, records and stores all of our life experience. Using our earlier experiences, the psyche develops a subjective logical framework for perceiving and further processing ongoing experience.
- The psyche divides itself into a conscious and an unconscious part in order to manage internal conflict. Life experiences often expose us to ambivalence and irreconcilable conflicts that our psyches have to manage somehow. In order to do this, simply speaking, our psyche keeps one part (or parts) of complex experience in the conscious mind and buries the other, more “dangerous” part (or parts) in the unconscious mind.
- The unconscious mind is multi-layered in itself. Closer to the surface one will find individual personal experience and potential that for a range of reasons cannot be brought into consciousness, and the deeper bedrock of the unconscious mind contains shared collective archetypal forces that affect all human beings.
- The contents of the unconscious mind continue to influence behaviour, even though such contents are buried away from conscious control.
- Both the divisions in the psyche (caused by internal conflicts) and the deep archetypal drivers contribute to continual dynamic processes in the psyche. These alternate between developmental, integrative processes and defensive processes. Some theorists argue that the psyche is continually striving for greater integration.
- The psyche uses the language of imagery and symbolism to express itself. This language allows the simultaneous communication of multiple layers of meaning.
- Human experience becomes more meaningful when the psyche’s personal aspect encounters the deeper, archetypal or “transpersonal” aspect. A depth approach tries to make the connection between the different levels.
- Symptoms are messages from the psyche. Personal problems, blockages and symptoms, as well as interpersonal problems and conflicts can be viewed as a form of communication from the psyche about its developmental process. These can be resolved by interpreting the symbolism inherent in the difficulty and thereby finding the deeper archetypal meaning that is being communicated. Simply “silencing” the symptoms will mean that the inherent problem is not resolved and will almost certainly manifest in a different way.
- We are not separate from the people around us, our psyches are inextricably linked to one another. At the simplest level, when two people come together, they form a third “psyche” between them which has a life of its own. This applies to all interactions with others – there is always the creation of a collective psyche which is more than the sum of the individual psyches. The collective psyche will express itself in terms of psychodynamic patterns. In order to change the systems around us, we need to understand the psychodynamics of those systems and always work towards systemic psychic health.
- As a result of the psychic interactions between us, there is no such thing as purely objective research or action when it comes to the psyche. We have to take into account the influence of our unconscious minds on our conscious observations and thoughts. Any past experience that in any way resonates with current experiences will influence the way we perceive the current experience.
- Our psyches are inextricably linked to all the life forms around us. Our inner landscape will to some extent be a reflection of our outer landscape, so we are only really as well as our environment is. This implies that there is a human imperative to live responsibly on the planet and to care for our ecosystems.
- Like all disciplines, the original thinkers in the discipline of depth psychology operated and were to some extent limited by the culture from which they came. As such, some of the original theories were founded on biases and stereotypes that are no longer appropriate. Modern day depth psychology challenges stereotypes that lead to discrimination on demographic bases, and helps us to always consider the psyche in its entire context.
- In order to move to greater system’s health, whether it be the individual, the group or the ecosystem, a depth approach suggests that the voices, opinions, and experiences that are repressed, marginalised, silenced or simply ignored, are attended to and considered in the system decision-making processes.
About 7 years ago I had a dream that felt significant, although I did not understand its significance at the time. I dreamt that scientists in South America had discovered a flower that had never been seen before, a flower that had a self-organising principle that was entirely new. I could see the flower in the dream, but not clearly.
A year or two later, I travelled to South America for the first time on my way to Antarctica. I was travelling alone and when I landed in Buenos Aires, the taxi driver suggested that he drives me around the city to see some of the attractions. He asked me whether I had seen “the flower”. Of course I had not. He drove me to a huge metal flower standing in a pool of water. Architect Eduardo Catalano had made it as a gift to the city. Catalano named it the Floralis Genérica, which means a flower that represents all the flowers in the world. The sculpture has petals that open and close depending on the time of day and the wind conditions. Apparently Catalano said something to the effect that the flower is a synthesis of all flowers and is a hope that is reborn every day (the quote in Wikipedia is not completely clear).
I did not know what to make of all of this at the time. I went on to Antarctica and had a wonderful time. I eventually wrote my book Beneath – Exploring the Unconscious in Individuals and it was published in 2011. Last year I also completed a rewrite of my first published book The Depth Facilitator’s Handbook from the perspective of leadership, and so named (a little obviously) Depth Leadership. I have not taken Depth Leadership to publication because it has not felt ready. In the last quarter of 2011, I started formulating a vision which I called Beneath, Between and Beyond.
This morning some pieces in my mind finally connected with one another. The new self-organising principle that I have been looking for has been right under my nose. In summary, I realised that I believe that I, and anyone that has an impact on the world, have a moral duty to pursue an approach that I call “depth leadership”. Broadly speaking this means that we actively work “beneath” (with our unconscious selves), “between” (with our communities) and “beyond” (with the natural environment), always considering our impact on the delicate balances in these complex systems, and thereby taking care to ensure that they thrive. We have to keep our attention on all three simultaneously and do whatever it takes to resolve the tensions and dilemmas between them. Anything less will be shortsighted. That is what I will be working towards in all my endeavours in 2012.
As you may know, I spent a few years living in the small town of Prince Albert. I returned to the city for a range of logistical reasons. I have now been back almost a year and a half, and realise that I have spent much of that time in mourning. I have been grieving the loss of small town living. I kept a house in Prince Albert and have returned there for weekends and recently for a ten day visit. Every time I go there, I feel significantly happier. I attributed this to many different things and thought about it a lot. It is not that Cape Town is a bad place, it is very beautiful and I have many dear friends here. My work is here and there is a range of stimulating and exciting things to do.
I realised that living a small town like Prince Albert (I am not sure if it is the same in all small towns) gave me two things which are far harder to get in a city. It gave me a community to which I belonged (and still do judging by the response I get when I go back there), and it gave me access to the diversity in others and myself.
By “community” I mean that in Prince Albert I am surrounded by a group of people who all know each other, and who pass information around very quickly. Some people regard that as gossip and may not like it. And of course, people in Prince Albert do gossip, but mostly it is not malicious. What it does mean is that the people of the town pass information around that when you need something or are in trouble in some way, you very soon get help from a variety of quarters. Recently, one of the two town doctors’ son was severely injured in an accident. The doctor and his wife had to rush to Cape Town to spend time with their son who is now thankfully ok. They left behind their practices (his wife is a physio), their guest house, their animals and their large and wonderful vegetable garden. In their absence, everything kept going. The people of Prince Albert simply jumped in and sorted it out. The town also held several events to raise money for medical bills. This is a high profile story, but it is one of many. When my daughter was caught behind a flooding river 3 years ago for two days in the pouring rain in a tent whilst running a 40 degree temperature, many people in the town got together to ensure that she was rescued. And, on a much more mundane level, when my fridge broke last week, the guy at the hardware store just happened to know the number of the guy who fixes fridges, who popped in to look at my fridge an hour later. Because the community is well defined – there is simply miles and miles of Karoo all around – and because it is small enough, there are clear boundaries that hold the group of people together as a functioning system. There is strong identification with being a resident of Prince Albert, and there is a sense of needing to look after one another.
In terms of the second part of what Prince Albert gave me, access to diversity in myself and others, it is wonderful to be interacting with people without too much concern about whether you fit in. In Prince Albert, it does not really matter what age you are, or how much money you have, how good looking or thin you are, how big your house is, or how educated you are, when you are considering your membership of the community. Everyone belongs, simply by virtue of living there. It does not mean that everyone likes one another, or that everything is perfect, but it does mean that there is a sense of membership that transcends the superficial aspects of being human. In one day walking along the main street, I will have 10 conversations with 10 vastly different people, carrying the full diversity of our humanity. In other words, one cannot build or sustain the defensive structures known as monocultures in a small town, one cannot relegate the unpalatable and unpleasant to an area behind a real or metaphorical wall or fence, one simply has to live with the richness and difficulty of the diversity around one all the time. This does not mean that there is no prejudice – of course this is a South African town – but there is an integration of parts of humanity that would elsewhere be disavowed. Even the town drunk (and there are a few of them) attends the annual Olive Festival and is greeted by fellow townspeople.