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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

Centre Point

Updated: May 20

If you want to talk about technology, the English language has a rich vocabulary to choose from. But if you want to express something in the realm of feeling, our language is utterly impoverished. Jungian analyst Robert Johnson points out that Sanskrit has ninety-six words for love; ancient Persian has eighty, Greek three, and English only one.

Did you ever notice how we use same word, “love,” to describe our relationship toward anything we hold dear, whether it’s God, pizza, pets, music, fall leaves, fashion, weather, coffee, art, videos gone viral, or family members?

When there is no terminology to describe the myriad nuances of feeling it's a pretty good clue that, collectively, our culture has a superior thinking function (which dominates at the expense of its inferior function—feeling.)

Our schools prefer test questions that have one right answer with a logical, “right” way to arrive at it. No extra credit is given for those less-traveled routes to Rome. If you were a “good student,” you were probably adept at using a thinking approach to problem solving. That’s not to say that every good student was a natural “thinking type.” Those of us who weren’t (a thinking type), usually learned to compensate by developing test-taking strategies and skills that allowed us to pass ourselves off as “thinkers.” I’ll wager that beneath the surface of many cerebral, pedantic scholars, there is a suffering feeling type who hasn’t found words for their natural way of expressing.

I did a good impersonation of a thinking type, until I got to the C.G. Jung Institute in Zürich. That façade crumbled under the scrutiny of personal analysis during training. However, when I had to pass eight exams at the halfway point my "exam complex" kicked in. My brain switched back to the default “thinking” strategies that had served me well most of my life. Particularly for my ethnology exam, which was an area I felt insecure about.

For part of the exam I had to write and defend a research paper on a foreign culture from both an ethnologist’s and an analytical psychologist’s perspective. I delved into ethnological studies of the Crow culture of the Native American Plains tribes. I discussed such things as their kinship customs demonstrating a modified bifurcate merging system with its collateral references for the father’s line and lineal for the mothers. I discussed the symbolism of their sacred dance, noting its animistic, indirect characteristics. . . well, you get the idea of my thinking approach to this assignment. I confidently sent it off to my examiners and focused on my other seven exams.

A few days before my last exam, which was ethnology, I pulled my paper out to simply review the thorough research I’d done. I was horrified when I read it. The material was dead, and it struck me as a pompous, white outsider’s assessment of a culture she had not gotten to know at all! What could I do at this late date? The examiners were preparing to test me on this material.

That night two weeping Crow grandmothers visited me in my sleep. In the dream I was explaining my paper (as written) to my ethnology examiners when the old women appeared. Their crying made it impossible to continue. I began to feel what they felt. Then they gave me a new exam. This was a paper with a circle drawn on it, and I was told I needed to figure out the circumference.

I had no idea what the dream meant, but when I awakened, I drew the circle that had been shown to me. I realized it needed a centre point to find the circumference. I felt compelled to spend the next two days in the ethnology library in Zürich reading all I could about the Crow peoples.

This time I read from a feeling perspective and discovered a new way of thinking about their rich culture. It seemed they had an exquisitely introverted, feeling culture, which had been misunderstood in the ethnological studies I had read. The day before my exam I happened upon a quote from a Crow sun dance chief who was discussing the meaning of their dance. He said, “Without fixing the centre point, there can be no circumference.” I was beginning to understand why the grandmothers had been crying.

Fast forward to the last half of my exam, when I had to defend my paper: They asked tough questions and I played it safe, sticking to my original plan. I knew I had to pass this exam in order to be promoted to the second half of my training. But while I was explaining, I kept seeing the face of a Crow grandmother crying and to my astonishment I heard myself saying, “This paper has it all wrong. Two Crow women came to me in a dream and I learned. . . .” I confessed everything.

Francoise O'Kane, the main examiner, had one final question: "I'm wondering how you regard these two women who came to you. Are they symbols? Active Imagination? Do you think they were real?"

"They were real!" I blurted out. “They wanted to teach me something I'm only beginning to understand." I couldn't tell from my examiner's face if I'd failed my exam or hopefully squeaked by. I spent many long minutes sitting in the hallway, berating myself for the mess I'd made in the exam while they deliberated my score. Finally, they called me in. It was one of those times I doubted that I'd ever get through the training program.

O'Kane told me I'd managed to take the exam on two levels. "On one level it is evident you've done the work and you were able to explain complicated theoretical concepts in everyday terms. The other level, I find much more important," she said. "You've gotten inside and felt it. This is the part one must be able to do as an analyst. It was an excellent exam."

Three years later when I took my diplomate exams, I was much more comfortable in my natural typology. I wasn't afraid to feel my way into the material and to lead more with my heart than my head. I feel gratitude to the Crow grandmothers for their generosity in teaching me how to trust the introverted feeling realm, even when I had no language for it.

~K L Kurtz

*The lovely drum in the photos was given to us by Mary Benedetto.

*C.G. Jung's typology is discussed in a concise, readable way in Daryl Sharp's C.G. Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts. Inner City Books, founded by Daryl, generously offers a free download of his lexicon of Jungian concepts and terms. You can find many other wonderful Jungian titles in their online bookshop, as well.


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