“Matter in the wrong place is dirt. People got dirty through too much civilization”. – C.G. Jung
“This identity and my heroic idealism had to be abandoned, for there are higher things than the ego’s will, and to these one must bow”. – C.G. Jung.
The academic year at CSULA is about to begin and I won’t be going back. I won’t be sitting in the auditorium listening to the President give his opening week speech. I won’t be submitting my syllabi for the fall quarter. I won’t be rushing late into a faculty meeting. I’ve finally severed myself from an eleven year, full-time (and three years adjunct) position as a professor at the university.
I’ve been trying to get out of Los Angeles for the last 20+ years. I’m not a “city person” and the noise and chaos of L.A. has wreaked havoc on my nervous system. I hate L.A. I hate the noise, the traffic, and the smog. I hate the never ending intensity. I grew up in a small town of 1500 people where you didn’t need a car to get to the grocery store, post office, or school. In Avalon, we never locked our doors or worried about being mugged at night. At my core, I’m a simple, small town girl. The city is just not in my bones.
But, oddly, now that I am finally leaving, I feel conflicted. Do I really want to leave L.A.? Maybe I’m not just a simple, small town girl after all. Rather, I am also a mature woman, full of complexity, laden with conflicts, and one who carries the full weight of knowing that, indeed, she has a shadow.
Los Angeles is part of my shadow and I think I might miss it.
Of course, one cannot rightly consign personal shadow to a place. The place is not to blame. But something beyond my awareness has kept me in Los Angeles for all these years and it is worth considering how this might reflect my shadow.
As a self designated, “nature person”, I always feel like an unwanted alien when in big cities. Yet, as a nature person, the city has given me a much needed edge. You’d think that living in the wilderness, like I often do, would make me dirty. But, in truth, I have gotten my dirtiest in Los Angeles. The city makes me feel filthy alright; it makes me anxious, angry, impatient, and downright mean. It takes this sweet nature person persona and turns her into a bitch. The city highlights a shadow aspect of myself that I’d rather not see, but so desperately need.
To amplify the dichotomy between beautiful and pristine nature and the ugly and tarnished city is to further the split within ourselves between what we consider “acceptable” and “despised”, or rather, between persona and shadow. But, as Jung reminds us, everything is nature, and as much as I hate to admit it, this includes even those forsaken strip malls I love to hate. Where else did this shit come from if not from out of the ground and formed from our own distorted connection with the unconscious psyche?
“So far as we can see, the collective unconscious is identical with Nature to the extent that Nature herself, including matter, is unknown to us”, writes Jung (LT, II, p. 540).
And, following Jung’s thinking, everything unknown to us is “shadow”.
So, I am beginning a new phase of life. One which does not include Los Angeles and all its glorious dark shadow. I will have more time and space to focus on my wilderness work with the School of Lost Borders and to further pursue my interest in ecopsychology. In other words, I will have more time to be “myself”. Hallelujah!
But truth is, I was myself at CSULA and in Los Angeles. Perhaps even more myself in that dark kind of paradoxical way of the shadow.
(I am still not going back)
I love my work as a wilderness guide. I love witnessing the power of nature in people’s lives. I love the story-telling and mirroring that brings to light the beauty of our own natures – our human natures – as mirrored by the surrounding trees, birds, sky, and sage.
Currently, I am hosting a month-long training in wilderness rites of passage with the School of Lost Borders. Today, eleven brave souls will return from the Inyo Mountains where they underwent a vision fast, which includes four days and nights of solitude and exposure in a remote wilderness place. I am eager to see their shining faces and euphoric expressions as they return from the threshold.
Yet, this I know…
When a group of people gather for any length of time, no matter what the setting, they eventually get on each other’s nerves. They get anxious, angry, impatient, and sometimes downright mean. In other words, they get dirty.
And with this, the real work begins. If we, as a group, can hold all this in the spirit of ceremony with love and without rejecting any of it, true transformation happens. The shadow finds a home and all our gritty complexes finally have room to move about freely without harm. We become more true to our natures. We become more fully human.
We can’t escape the city, but we can acknowledge that it is a very real and important part of our collective psyche.
Thank you, Los Angeles, for having been such an ally.