“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.
I love this, congratulations on following the part of your heart that connects you with Wisdom, Betsy. What a wonderful adventure you are continuing. I love the idea of shadow and getting dirty. As always I appreciate your complex yet clear perspectives. Lost Borders is so lucky to have such a wonderful mentor and leader.
Jo, I am so glad you like the blog. Your words of encouragement mean a lot to me. Sending drops of sweet summer rain to you from Big Pine.
Oh God.. could we truly be sisters of the Earth as so initiated by our innocent and yet very telling roll in the Mothers wet dirt those many years back… a rite of passage from sweet feminine clean perfection into facing our own deepest ache to be as authentic as possible whilest the need to go out into the world and ‘prove’ ourselves raged within? And so I too, at this very moment, face the shift into a place of true Northern expansion – letting go of my ego’s drive to prove that I’m good enough by pushing and climbing and dragging myself to the top of the mountain – trying so damn hard to get the ‘machine,’ to notice me.. to put me up there on the pedestal of ‘greatness’ and ‘hype – because ‘the machine’ could help me reach more people with the gracious gifts that I carry in my soul.
BUT recently, I’ve grown weary of the game… and Great Spirit is prompting my ‘finally’ very willing self to let go and let God.. HAAAAA what a concept! Changes are in the wind. We head to Humbolt County next week to ‘feel’ the landscape there and it’s looking like relocation and a new way of doing our work is bubbling within. My deepest self feels so relieved, my ego feels scared about letting go of the entire way I’ve done things for 20 some years and is fighting me on subtle levels, my heart grieves the seeming loss whilest the wise woman within me celebrates the wisdom and growth of the path and “knows”. Ah, to be human with so many complex emotions all weaving in and out of each other. I look forward to how I’m going to finally be able to fully expand and stretch out my wings and fly into heights restricted by what a machine would impose upon me. I look forward to waking up in joy and excitement of how Great Spirit is going to help me to form what is to be. I love you my Sister… I feel you. I am so grateful you posted this as it has opened me up into the wisdom of this shift that Rob and I are also going through. I look forward to the time we sit in circle again. Christina
Thank you for taking the time to read my post! It sounds like there is another tide of great change before you as you turn away from of the bustle of Nashville and move toward the inwardness of northern California. What a tremendous shift! Many prayers to you as you regather those pieces of yourself that were lost in the “climbing and dragging to the top of the mountain” and also an honoring of those pieces that were discovered along the way. Love, Betsy
Betsy.. you don’t have to thank me! I LOVE YOUR POSTS and look forward to the diamonds within your writings. 🙂 We are actually in St. Louis, MO. Nashville turned out to be only one leg of a journey to where we are now and CA hopefully will be the final resting place. I like how you enlighten me to the ‘inwardness’ that dwells there.. as this will be a great home to return to each time we head out on the road to the ‘outward’ work we must continue to do with our music. Can’t wait to see where each of our journies takes us now… two women ripe and deep with the fullness of light and shadow… and bones fleshed out with the gifts of growth. Love you Sister… Christina
This post resonates with me so much. I am “not a city person” either and moved from a beautiful small rural coastal community nestled between the mountains and ocean to Honolulu and struggle every day with living in a crowded, developed landscape. Thank you for reminding me that everything is nature and that I am not alone in my challenges, and that I too will someday be leaving it for another place.
Thank you so much for visiting my blog and offering your great comment. I looked at your website and was impressed by your bio and insights on ecopsycology. I see that you’re a graduate of Naropa. John Davis, who I am sure you’ve met through Naropa, and I do some work together through a small organization called School of Lost Borders. We also often offer workshops and lecture at the wilderness therapy symposium held at Naropa each fall. Perhaps, we have met? Do you know about Pacific Quest on the Big Island? A Lost Borders associate, Chris Kaiser, runs a rites of passasge program there, along with other programs such as permaculture and primitive skill building. Again, thanks for visiting my blog. Blessings to you from California. Betsy
As an ex-La dweller from a small town, I resonate with this post, even though it’s six years after you wrote it. It would be wonderful to read how long it took you to wash the city grime out of your hair and re-establish deep roots down into the earth (if you even felt that you had lost them…). I realise it probably seems irrelevant now after so long, but these were the words that came.
Thanks for your posts!