Offered by Helene Smit of Feather Learning (Pty) Ltd, in association with the Depth Leadership Trust:
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:
Amongst others, the Trust will engage in the following main activities in order to achieve the above objectives:
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:
I have been busy for the last 3 months with something I have not done before. Here are the results:
Carl Jung said that “The world today hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man.”
The psyche is more than our conscious thoughts, our plans, our decisions, and our feelings. It is our entire mental and psychological life. It is the medium through which we play our lives. I have been fascinated with the idea of the psyche for a long time. Particularly, I have been interested in what happens to the parts of ourselves that we cannot readily express for some reason or another.
My early life is in some ways best captured by this picture, and the only piece of art, incidentally, that I have ever done. As a young child, I suffered from psychological and physical injury that could not be spoken about, and as a result, many of my experiences ended up deep in my psyche, far from consciousness.
More than 40 years later, my life road has brought me here (not only onto this stage) but also into the privilege of a varied and interesting creative life. My life is not always been easy, or simple, or joyful. There are difficult times, as for all of us. But I am no longer in the corner of that room (as in the picture). I would like to share with you what helped me change my life so fundamentally and for the better.
The first important factor is that I was lucky enough to be born into a family of white entrepreneurs, in a country that at that time ensured privilege for white people. As a result, I have been lucky enough to have access to resources, in a way that many people in South Africa then didn’t and still don’t.
The second factor is that I was forced through sheer inner discomfort to embark on an exploration of my own psyche at quite a young age. By the time I had reached my early twenties, I realised that I was not ok and that if I continued as I was, my life would become increasingly problematic. I was extremely anxious, unstable and I suffered from a range of physical and mental symptoms. A friend suggested that I go to therapy and I was desperate enough to try it. In my first few sessions it became clear that I had very little memory before the age of 14. This realisation started a lifelong interest, and possibly even obsession, trying to understand how the mind and memory function in relation to each other.
I am of course not alone in my fascination with what lies beneath the surface of my own mind. Throughout history people have thought about it, and have tried to explain the inner processes of their minds.
St Augustine confessed in 397 AD that:
“Memory is a vast, immeasurable sanctuary. Who can plumb its depths? And yet it is a faculty of my soul. Although it is part of my nature, I cannot totally grasp all that I am. This means, then, that the mind is too narrow to contain itself entirely. But where is that part of it which it does not itself contain? I am lost in wonder when I consider this problem. It bewilders me. Men go out and gaze in astonishment at high mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad reaches of rivers, the ocean that encircles the world, or the stars in their courses. But they pay no attention to themselves.
Shakespeare’s Achilles in Troilus and Cressida Act III, Scene 3 said:
“My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirr’d; and I myself see not the bottom of it”
As I continued to work with a therapist over time, I discovered that whole parts of myself that had been missing were coming back into memory. It was not lost. It had simply been locked up for a time. This was incredible to me. I had discovered access to my own unconscious mind.he idea of the unconscious mind has been around in the world for a long time.
In the Western world it was finally effectively developed and marketed by Sigmund Freud in the late 1800’s in Vienna. Freud and the colleagues that followed him actively researched and developed our understanding about the part of the mind that lives beneath the surface of consciousness.
Thinkers such as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, Melanie Klein and others disagreed vigorously, but together they produced a set of theories that can be thought of as “Depth Psychology”. These theories consider how and why human experiences are buried in the unconscious mind, what the mechanisms are, and how we can reverse the processes that lead to us burying parts of ourselves. They help us understand that the human psyche will do anything to survive, even bury large parts of our experiences and our potential in the basements of our minds. It appears that any part of our potential humanity that is not allowed in early life, will be stored for when it is safer to develop it.
The depth psychologists were responsible for the development of what we think of as talk therapy – the idea that we can heal the human mind by bringing unconscious material into consciousness through exploring our feelings, thoughts, imagination and of course, our dreams.
To get back to my own story, for the next 20 years, I made it my life’s work to understand the human psyche, starting with my own. I buried many of my feelings (especially my vulnerable feelings) deep inside me. I was a “tough cookie”.
But underneath, I was very afraid and very sad. I learnt that getting to know my own psyche, especially those parts that were buried, is a rocky road, and required a great deal courage and persistence to keep going. The psyche resists allowing buried material to come to the surface, because those memories were buried for good reason. Allowing myself to re-experience what was buried felt very threatening because it involved remembering great pain and suffering. It also felt dangerous, because as a child, those experiences had been taboo to speak about. My psyche needed a great deal of convincing that it was safe to speak now. Fortunately I was in qualified and safe hands, which afforded me a gradual development of trust.
I became interested in trying to understand psychic mechanisms from a more academic perspective. The more I learnt, the more I realised that getting to know the parts of myself that I had given up made a huge difference to how I worked and loved. I ended up teaching ideas about the psyche to MBA students and other leaders for the past 18 years, and all the time learning more about how it all works. During this time, I eventually had my own children, and thankfully, I think that their lives have been less subject to the patterns of the past than mine was.
I eventually spent five years writing a book (called Beneath – Exploring the Unconscious in Individuals) that explains the mechanisms of the unconscious mind to people without a psychological background because I wanted to share these ideas in a way that was accessible to people without a psychological background. Once during a workshop, one of my participants called me aside and said that these ideas were making him think about the way he treats his 4 year old daughter. He admitted that he hits her when she is naughty, but he has noticed that she is becoming more violent, and he is wondering whether she is learning violence from him. His insight was so brave that I almost could not speak. I asked him what he thought and he went further and made the connection with his own childhood where he had lost his father at a very young age and was often very sad and desperate. I wanted to write a book that could help more people make that kind of connection.
If we understood that human behaviour is fundamentally logical, not the overt and obvious logic that we may all relate to, but the deep and private logic that is built up from the way we experience our lives. What we do is hardly ever random, it may surprise us, but it is not really unpredictable. For example, have you ever really wondered why you like certain foods or flowers, or why you find women (or men) dressed in yellow wildly attractive? Have you ever wondered about the simple everyday choices that organise your life?
There is a lovely story about the philosopher Descartes that realised six months before he died that he had a special fondness for cross-eyed people. Apparently as a child he had had a cross-eyed friend, and in his realisation stated that: “whenever I looked at cross-eyed persons, I felt more inclined to love them than to love others.”
Our logical nature extends to the way we experience emotions. For example, if someone injures us, we suffer pain and we can naturally express that through crying. If we are imposed upon, we get angry. If we are loved, we feel happy. Emotions flow through us if they are allowed to be expressed. Negative emotions can heal if we are allowed to express them. We have the power to forgive those who injure us, if our pain is heard and acknowledged. However, if our suffering is denied, ignored, or minimised, it becomes buried and stuck inside us, where it causes great discomfort and then we become destructive. We can recover from difficult or harsh experiences, if we are allowed to feel our suffering and be heard.
The problem is that, in many ways, we organise our worlds so that suffering is buried. Many of us have not been able to or allowed to express our suffering and so we have to keep it buried. We anaesthetise ourselves through working too hard, abusing alcohol and drugs, shopping, watching TV, and being aggressive with one another. We avoid our suffering and the painful confrontation required for it. And so we are doomed to repeat the patterns of wounding that we suffered. We unconsciously treat our partners, our friends, our colleagues and our children in the same destructive way that we were treated. Only greater self-awareness changes this.
I was recently at a large leadership conference near this beautiful lake in Sweden where 300 people from more than 50 countries joined together to talk about how on earth we can all live together. There were many smart people there sharing their ideas about making the world a better place. However, as I listened I felt increasingly unwell. For some reason I was struggling to breathe and felt I was suffocating. I did not understand it at the time, but a few days after the conference I had the following dream:
I dreamt that I was in a small town. In the dream, I am walking along a road and I see something protruding from the soil next to the road. On closer examination I realise that is a finger, a child’s finger. I realise with shock that there is a child buried in the soil on the side of the road. It becomes clear that on the previous night 300 children of the poor people of the town were buried alive by the rich people of the town and that they suffocated in the process. Of course, the parents of the children are devastated beyond recovery.
As I continue walking I notice that in the graves from where the children were dug up, are already used by the rich people in the town to plant trees to beautify the wealthy part of town. I walk up to the poor part of town which is on a hill and I realise that the houses are simple, but that there are already many trees. The dream ends here. It was an extremely disturbing dream. As I reflected about it the next morning I kept returning to the image of the child’s finger pointing up to the sky and tried to make sense of it. I realised that a finger in the air refers to someone trying to get a turn to speak. And just as we bury the suffering children inside us in our unconscious minds, so we silence and ignore the voices of the suffering children around us in the world. My dream was a reaction to the conference where in my unconscious I felt that although good, sophisticated ideas where being expressed, the voice of the many was not present.
This is Henry. He is a little boy from my home town. I do not know Henry’s full story yet, but I often see him hanging around outside the local supermarket asking for money or food when he should be in school. I can see that Henry is suffering. He has a steady gaze, but he never smiles. His clothing is not warm enough in winter. He is obviously neglected. And yet, Henry does not have the power, the ability or the capacity to be articulate enough to speak about his suffering. And so, his situation is unlikely to change. Because if we cannot speak about our suffering and ensure that someone listens, then nothing can change.
Guy Claxton in his wonderful book, The Wayward Mind says:
“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.”
But another possibility also exists: if we can confront, bear, express and understand our own suffering from our past, then maybe we are more able to listen to the unspoken suffering of someone like Henry. And if we can hear his story, we can no longer ignore it. And when we no can no longer ignore it, we may choose to live differently, so that Henry can also live differently. It is only when we know the depths of our own pain and suffering, that we can identify with Henry’s suffering.
It is not enough to have clever ideas and share them at places like this TEDx conference or any other public forum. We need to do more. We need to confront our own unacknowledged suffering, so that we can bear facing the suffering of others.
If we identify with Henry as a person, we empathise with his hunger, his loneliness and his desperation. Empathy motivates us to get involved, to become activists, to challenge the status quo. Empathy stops us from taking our privilege for granted, and inspires us to use our privilege more responsibly. Empathy counteracts fear and greed and builds connection and community. Sufficient empathy helps us to become citizens and leaders that works beneath (with ourselves,) between (with others) and beyond (taking care of our environment) to ensure a thriving planet.
On the 10th February, 22 people held a meeting in the small town of Prince Albert in the Great Karoo to discuss the possibility of the town becoming a “transition town”. As a result of the meeting, the group agreed that they would communicate the ideas to everyone else in Prince Albert and see who else is interested in getting involved.
The worldwide “transition town” movement is a response to two of the large challenges that humans face and that will significantly change the way we live in the future:
The “transition town” movement was started by a man called Rob Hopkins and some of his students in the town of Kinsale in Ireland who were concerned about these challenges. They developed a plan which set out how Kinsale could make the transition from a high energy consumption town to a low energy one. In 2005, the town council adopted this plan unanimously. Hopkins himself later became a leader in a transition initiative in Totnes, a town in England, which became the world’s first Transition Town. Each individual transition initiative has its own objectives with a range of practical projects.
The objectives of a “transition town” are as follows:
There are many current activities underway in Prince Albert that already work towards these objectives. As a result of further efforts after the meeting, the recycling project in the town has been resurrected. As a community, the town would develop many more creative activities.
In considering why Prince Albert would be suitable to become a transition town, the following factors are important:
In considering how the Prince Albert community could benefit from becoming a transition town, the following ideas are important:
This is just a beginning. Our next steps include building awareness and gathering together interested parties. In the first meeting, we agreed on a “work-in-progress” vision for the town based on a vision that had been developed through an extensive public participation process in 2002. This vision was “a town that works for everyone, excluding no-one”. We thought that this could be adapted to “a clean town that works for everyone” to include the environmental component. We will keep having conversations in order to ensure an inclusive process. And for those who are interested outside of our little town, we will keep you posted.
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.