Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Directions are important. Even if one does not quite know the twists and turns of a particular route, it is at least helpful to be aware what direction one is going in. And even if one becomes aware that one is heading the wrong way at least one can stop and think and save further confusion and lostness by altering course. As a lover of the music of the indefatigable, irrepressible and very talented Bob Dylan the following words have always jangled about somewhere in my brain:

"How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone?"

At fifty, at least, I have found some directions in my life. The route to whatever destination I'm heading for is way clearer than it was for me as a young man of 20. I write these autobiographical thoughts as I sit here during my break-time from class at the school where I am a resource teacher. Jung has said somewhere in his vast voluminous writings that we spend the first half of our lives setting ourselves up for working life by getting our careers built up and our families provided for. Then, after we have achieved all that, Jung says, we begin to question the meaning of it all, where we are going and how we can improve our satisfaction with whatever project we have undertaken. For Jung, the second part of life is all about the process he calls "individuation", that is the "integration" of the self and the finding of our real purpose in life. How true for him, indeed.

I also write these autobiographical reflections as I have finished the first module of a course in psychotherapy I have begun with PCI College under the auspices of Middlesex University, England. We have just completed a module entitled "the humanistic approaches to psychotherapy," and this has been singularly enriching for me - not so much the new theories and approaches encountered so much as the integration of the same into my own sense of my personal journey or project that is uniquely my life. In a certain sense this whole module was life-enhancing, very positive, personally re-inforcing and life-enriching. These seem like clichés when they are written down, but I assure the reader that they are far from being such for the writer of these thoughts.

Anyway, while Dylan's words jangle around in my brain, their meaning is the polar opposite to what I have written in prose form in the paragraphs above. The author of the song is singularly lost and is writing about that experience. In other words Dylan's protagonist or plaintive singer in this song is a poor alienated soul. As far as I can recall it was none other than Karl Marx himself who coined the term "alienation" in the context of the working person being alienated from the results of his work. Now Marx's theory of alienation as expressed in his writings refers to the separation of things that naturally should belong together, or to an antagonism between things that are normally and properly in harmony. In the concept's most important use, it refers to the social alienation of people from aspects of their "human nature." He also believed, needless to say, that alienation is a systematic result of capitalism.

Humanistic psychotherapy is based on a sincere belief in human nature, that deep within each human heart/soul/mind lies a thrust to wholeness and unity; that within each individual lies the solution (or more correctly 'the healing') of his or her crisis; that the client/patient knows best; that the role of the therapist is that of a companion on the way; that the therapist helps the client find their direction; that the client is the expert in his/her own life; that life is all about living in awareness of the deeper self and that the goal is essentially to actualize the real and essential self. Much of this language is based on the work of Carl Ransom Rogers and Abraham Maslow, two wonderful humanistic psychotherapists. However, their work has much in common with that of Carl Gustave Jung as any reader will see from the foregoing posts on this pioneering psychiatrist and depth psychologist. In other words what I have stated about the humanistic approaches in this last paragraph roughly also approximates to what Jung meant by the process of individuation.

To put an end to this autobiographical divertion, I should like to add that there is a DVD entitled No Direction Home. It is a documentary film by Martin Scorsese that traces the life of Bob Dylan, and his impact on 20th century American popular music and culture. The film does not cover Dylan's entire career; it concentrates on the period between Dylan's arrival in New York in January 1961 and his "retirement" from touring, following his motorcycle accident in July 1966. This period encapsulates Dylan's rise to fame as a folk singer and songwriter, and the controversy surrounding his switch to a rock style of music. The film was first shown on television in both the United States (as part of the PBS American Masters series) and the United Kingdom (as part of the BBC Two Arena series) on September 26–27 2005. A DVD version of the film and accompanying soundtrack album (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack) were released that same month. Also in writing this little advertising note I am reinforcing my determination to buy this worthwhile DVD.

Above a picture I took of some signs in Paris. Signposts are, of course, helpful!

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