Jung & Poetry: Full, Embodied Living

Everything that irritates [or intrigues] us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.
-C.G. Jung

As we mature finding ways to relate to and communicate with the hidden, non-integrated personality traits that are “in the shadow” is imperative if we want to enjoy a life rich with meaning and purpose.

Trying on different “hats” and “voices” can be fun and very telling! One way to form a relationship with your shadow is to read poetry aloud and play with the words. Try moving your mouth ever so slightly and then reading the poem aloud in some usual way. Some interesting personalities may jump out to greet you! Then you and your shadow personalities can really get the playful conversation going!

There is a back story to the writing of this post–(and perhaps shadow has a hand in any edits made):

This post began as a survey of “Current Trends in Jungian Psychology”. After interviewing Anne O’ Reilly, Irish poet and sacred clown, on Creativity in Play, http://creativityinplay.com, I was led to writing further about Jung and Poetry.

Anne O’ Reilly shared a summer poem by Mary Oliver during our interview with her which I will share with you now:

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press,Boston,MA

In my first Jung & Poetry post I write:

Analytical psychology at its core emphasizes the process of individuation, a life-long process of transformation. Each of us is unique and called to grow in maturity through a process of psychic integration. How can we explore and expand our creativity in the process of individuating? What are some ways we can we develop our creative, playful selves?

Choose any art form and you will find your [dance] in the individuation process. Shadow is your partner as you step from the personal into places of uncertainty and magical embodiment of “what can be” when you are open to receiving into your heart.

Anne O’ Reilly spoke eloquently about how by following impulse and moving into invisible realms we can locate “a much bigger horizon of what is”.

What Is
Today I bow to letters and cards
soul friends touching me from far away,
bow to the familiar ritual
of the morning cup of tea.

Bowing to the rain is harder though
until I see droplets
on the glossy leaves
of the thirsty white camellia.

When I think of the day it arrived
the day of her burial
the bow sticks in my throat
like a swallowed sob.

My shoulders hunch
my back feels tight
and something cracks inside
when I try to bow.

My exhaustion seeps into the sheets
and I push away the bow
that accepts
this need for rest.

Like two great Sumo wrestlers
their solid bulky forms
bowing before they begin
their great display

parts of my world square up
and face each other
the one who fights
and the one who surrenders

the moments of beauty
and the abruptness of death
my struggling Yes
and my defiant No

and I wonder how
my life could ever become
one long deep bow
to what is.

-Anne F O’Reilly
On CD Breathsong  May 2011

© Copyright 2011 by Mary Alice Long, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    July 22nd, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    The opening lines from CG Jung are so true.I have my own pet peeves and I often wonder whether there are things about me that annoy others as well.This definitely helps me look into myself,as CG Jung has told.

  • R.J. Clancy

    July 22nd, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    I love The Summer Day poem! Thanks for sharing that. And the question it raises at the end, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”…that’s a big question and a hard one to answer for me at least. I like life to be more spontaneous than structured and more magical than mundane. :)

  • Sauerhammer

    July 22nd, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    @R.J. I agree that the question of what do we plan to do with our lives is a very tough one. I like to think less in terms of the concrete and more in the terms of what path I shall take. My thoughts drift to that commercial about paying it forward. Every nice thing we do can help one person, then maybe, just maybe that one person will pay that favor forward to someone else. In essence I really have planned to do anything, but in performing a nicety I have done something that my just turn out bolder than anything that I could have ever imagined possible.

  • Sidney Clouston

    July 23rd, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    To bow is giving respect. Bowing to what is respects the natural and “it is what it is”.

  • Marlee

    July 24th, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    Finding out who those shadows are that live within are so imperative to getting to know the real you!
    Try on those hats, look for the things that interest you that you would have never thought about before, and you might be surprised at who and what you find underneath all of those layers of you!
    I find that to be quite an exciting prospect!

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    August 8th, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    Thank you all for your comments. What is it you plan to do with “your one wild and precious life?”

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