I had just completed the final workshop in the series Archetypes of Spiritual Guidance; I decided to stay an extra day so I could visit a dear friend of mine in the Seattle area; little did I know it would present one more reason to dive into the murky world of unconscious complexes. It all started so innocently, we were discussing some angst she was feeling in her life and I found myself curious to explore what may be contributing to it. Her answers would lead to another question and before long I found myself in familiar territory; I was slipping into my role as a spiritual coach. I paused and observed that it was beginning to feel as though I was coaching her and asked if that was OK. Her response was immediate and clear, “No, it was not OK” and then she went on to say that she had been about to tell me she felt uncomfortable with my questions.
It was a bit like running into a brick wall. I noticed a flush of energy in my body, and a desire to leave immediately rather than wait for my six o’clock train. I took a deep breath, obviously a complex had engaged. In his amazing audio book Through The Dark Wood, James Hollis attributes the theory behind complexes to Carl Jung and describes them like this, “an energy laden core idea that when it is evoked can only repeat the world view, the value system and repetitive actions that are tied to its origin. They were generated in our history and bind us to it.” My friend could tell something had engaged and asked if I was all right. I responded honestly, “No I am not but this is not about you”. I took another deep breath and realized I needed some personal space. “I need some time on my own” I responded, “I’m going for a walk.”
Any one who has stayed in touch with my blogs knows that this is not the first complex I have explored. Since I began this process of unraveling my own psychology I have written extensively about my journey with different complexes. At times it seems endless; they seem like the interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that continually create a bigger picture. The same complex repeats but I go a little deeper. It always begins with an energetic reaction that once I have awareness of it requires me to pause and take space. This is accompanied by a sense of my feelings being hurt. The danger if I don’t take care of myself, I will engage in one of two main reactions. I will find a way to blame the person who activated my complex, or I will suppress it, which will cause it to emerge later often as a passive-aggressive reaction.
Once outside I began to recreate the experience. First there was the energy in my body followed by a variety of feelings. These included: feeling hurt that I had been shut down, losing my voice, feeling unappreciated, feeling disrespected, wanting to run away. Frequently we (especially men) discount the feelings with a response like, “Get a grip, get over it, she didn’t mean to hurt you.” However I have learned this simply leads to suppression. If a complex is not given room to breathe and be explored it will simply submerge like magma in a volcano, waiting for a future eruption. One of the compelling things about exploring a complex is how quickly we appreciate the child like nature of the reaction. It is not difficult to appreciate Jung’s belief that these reactions are of historic origin.
As I walked and began to appreciate the beauty of the ocean to my right and the gardens to my left, I contemplated when I might have felt like this before. Could I trace when the energy behind the complex developed its power? Suddenly an incident that occurred when I was fifteen flashed into my mind. It is one that I have previously worked with because I knew I had unconsciously replicated my rebellious relationship with my father with a teacher at school but this felt different
It concerned the sport of rugby. Despite having been brought up in a soccer world I had learned to enjoy the game and had become pretty good. I was engaged in trials for one of the school teams. I played centre and thought it suited my agility and skill set. I did not think I had the pure speed to be on the wing. So it was a crashing shock when the coach called me to his office and said he was switching me to wing. It felt like he was diminishing my chances of being chosen. I responded negatively (the father complex) and he reacted and said you can play wing or not at all. I chose not to play and in that moment permanently eliminated any chance I had to play for the school or even to play competitive rugby again. As I left his office I felt these same feelings, “hurt that I had been shut down, losing my voice, feeling unappreciated, feeling disrespected, wanting to run away.” When I had explored this previously I realized that I felt bad about not being heard or understood and that my actions had only hurt myself. Now I saw something else. This was yet another example of how badly I was served at this school. I suspect the master had slipped into his own complex around having his authority questioned without a thought for the fact that I was fifteen. Surely he should have felt some responsibility for offering me a second chance instead of condemning me to a purgatory of playing rugby in a competition when the moment I had the ball my opponents parted like the Red Sea in front of Moses.
One of the joys of doing this work is the clarity and freedom one feels, a sense that some of the energy binding me to the complex has been released. It always reminds me of William Yeats lovely words, “I am content to follow to its source every event and action and in thought. For when such as I cast out remorse so great a sweetness flows into the breast that we must laugh and we must sing for we are blessed by everything. Everything we look upon is blest.”