In Memories, Dreams, Reflections in Chapter VI, Confrontation with the Unconscious, Jung writes of the great disorientation he experienced following his break with Freud. He explains that he lost his grounding, his very understanding of who he was and how he might practice. In his efforts to regain his footing he paid close attention to his dreams and fantasies including memories from childhood. He remembered playing with little building blocks with which he constructed small houses and castles. He was impassioned by this play as a child. As he reflected upon it he experienced a great deal of emotion, which puzzled him. He concluded that these memories were still alive in him; the child was still accessible and had no doubt come to inform Jung, the grown man. Following this and still at loose ends as a result of the break with Freud, he made the decision to return to his childhood building game. He gathered small stones from the lake and every day weather permitting, he would go out after lunch and build; cottages, a church, a whole village. He came to realize that as he did so his thoughts cleared and his grip on the unconscious contents of Psyche became known to him.
“Naturally, I thought about the significance of what I was doing, and asked myself, ‘Now, really, what are you about?’ You are building a small town, and doing it as if it were a rite!” I had no answer to my question, only the inner certainty that I was on the way to discovering my own myth. For the building game was only a beginning. It released a stream of fantasies which I later carefully wrote down.” pp 174-75.
The question that Jung asked himself that day, “Now, really, what are you about?” has informed my analytic work with my clients for many years. It is at the very core of my being as an analyst and in my everyday life. There is a synchronicity associated with the quote which I will share to help you appreciate the depth of it’s meaning to me.
Near the end of my training I was struggling to find a topic for the required diploma thesis. Jungian study, as you know, is so broad and deep; so many compelling topics one might chose. I wanted to find a topic that would seize me. One night in the midst of my heated search, I had the following dream.
I had gone to see my supervisor. I entered her consulting room and her sand tray miniatures were set out all about on shelves. There was another supervisee with her so while I waited for my appointment I walked about the room selecting a few of the miniatures. One looked like a Russian onion dome church turned upside down. Inside the dome were tiny receptacles for birthday cake sized candles, next to the onion dome was a bowl of tiny braided candles, the kind that are used in the Havdalah service in celebration of the close of the Jewish Sabbath at sundown on Saturdays. It is that moment when the Sabbath ends and we are called to return to the mundane everyday workweek. The candle is braided and has multiple wicks to symbolically represent the need for additional light so that one avoids staying too long in the bliss of the Sabbath. A return to consciousness is required.
In the dream I took some of the candles and fixed them into the little receptacles. I was puzzled by what I configured. I didn’t understand. At that moment, a small, old, white haired man appeared in the middle of the room and in a voice that sounded far away he spoke to me. He said, “Sandy, what are you about?” That was the end of the dream.
I was left with the mystery---the onion dome, the little braided candles and the haunting voice of the white haired man. For days I repeated his question to me over and over again. “What are you about?” Many hours of personal analysis, active imaginations and paintings and then I had it! The braided candles represented my dual training as an art therapist and a Jungian analyst. Two burning as one. How did they stand-alone and yet enhance each other? My thesis would be about how I combine the two disciplines. Some weeks later, I picked up Memories, Dreams, Reflections for no reason and randomly opened it. It automatically opened to pages 174-75 and there, underlined in several bright colors, was Jung’s description of his return to his childhood game and his haunting question. I was flabbergasted. I honestly had no memory of having read that passage before and here I was having dreamed Jung’s very words. “…What are you about?”
I read on, further Jung wrote, “This sort of thing has been consistent with me, and at any time in my later life when I came up against a blank wall, I painted a picture or hewed stone. Each such experience proved to be a rite d’entrée for the ideas and works that followed hard upon it.”
The question for me is like a key that opens the door to the archetypal journey of individuation. It is an invitation to enter the work of analysis, to open to the dance between conscious and unconscious. It is the question that creates the framework for the analytic relationship. The guide and the seeker. The analyst/guide has among other roles, the job of witness. In Jung’s play with the building blocks and in my dream, the question, “What are you about?” evokes a creative response. It makes room for the “other”. One is invited “to wonder.” I see it as a caring question. We all want to be seen and to be met. Here the questioner is pointedly noticing us and taking the time to ask. She is creating a space for us to come to know our self.
I invite you to spend some time with this question and see what you discover. You will have an experience of Jung.