To ruminate is to further chew partly digested food. (At least if you’re a cow, sheep, giraffe, or other ruminant.) For homo sapiens, to ruminate is to brood—to be in a self-focused, self-critical frame of mind. Psychologists say this is a big no-no but Jung seemed to prescribe and not proscribe it:
Depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective. This can only be done by consciously regressing along with the depressive tendency and integrating the memories so activated into the conscious mind—which was what the depression was aiming at in the first place.
—C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation,
CW vol 5, par 625.
In The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, we read:
Rumination invariably backfires. It merely compounds out misery. It’s a heroic attempt to solve a problem that it is just not capable of solving. Another mode of mind altogether is required when it comes to dealing with unhappiness. [p. 45]
So, rumination = bad. But earlier in the same book, we read:
This is why we can react so negatively to unhappiness:our experience is not one simply of sadness, but is colored powerfully by reawakened feelings of deficiency or inadequacy. What may make these reactivated thinking patterns most damaging is that we often don’t realize they are memories at all. We feel not good enough now without being aware that it is a thinking pattern from the past that is evoking the feeling. [p. 38]
Memories! That’s the link between Jung and Williams et al. Memories are being activated but we don’t realize they are memories. When depressed, part of this “not realizing” is because we can’t envision a past. Nothing has ever been different than it is right now. We can’t remember—or even imagine—a time when we weren’t depressed. So, when we are ruminating on our depression and unhappiness, we are unable to look back far enough to “see” those memories that are being activated, those memories from our childhood. We only experience the effects of those situations today. And so we try to “fix” our mood by ruminating on today’s events or what went wrong yesterday or last week which caused our current slide. And, yes, that does not work because current events and situations are only triggers for what has been branded into our minds from childhood. We can’t change anything by focusing on the triggers. There will always be triggers and while we may be able to control our reaction to those triggers that is not a real solution.
What Jung is suggesting is exactly the “other mode of mind” which Williams et al. say is absolutely necessary. While at first blush Jung is advocating rumination and logical, analytical thinking, he is really describing a different process all together.
Finding a way out [of depression] is beyond his rational powers. Only the irrational soul, with its “transcendent function” (i.e., imagination), can find a way forward. Leaving behind the world of materialistic determinism, rationality, and the isolation of conscious ego from conscious ego, Jung would have the depressed individual let go of his conscious efforts and fall into the unconscious, where the exuberant power of imagination lies latent. Only the experience of soul. Only the discovery that I “have” a soul and can even “become” my soul offers any solution for the depressed condition. 1
Jung is prescribing a regression—a letting go of conscious efforts (aka rumination) and a falling into the unconscious. Not totally. Not allowing the unconscious to possess us. But with the intent of integrating the unconscious with the conscious—of combining the two to make a whole. We are not striving for perfection but for completeness. And to be complete, to be whole, we need the “negative” aspects of ourselves to be as conscious as the “positive.” Denying or ignoring aspects of our childhood is not being whole.
Now I realize the vagueness of my remarks. “Ya just have to fall into the unconscious.” “Ya just have to integrate the past memories.” “Ya just …” As if this were as easy as removing stains with Oxyclean™. But no one said individuation was going to be easy! I’m still working on it myself.
I think my depression has a lot to do with Mother. Not so much my mother, but Mother (note the capital M) in all her aspects. The nurturing Mother. The protective Mother. The devouring Mother. The critical Mother. The Mother in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” that wants to build a wall around her son to keep him safe. Mother is a difficult thing to break away from for a boy. Think “The Police” and “Every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end.” I sleep all day ensconced in the blankets the way a comforting Mother holds her child. When I’m stressed, I eat as if a nurturing Mother were feeding me. I want someone to fix everything, kiss my boo-boos and make everything all better the way Mother is supposed to.
And so, I think that my task is dealing with my relationship with my mother. This is a tad bit difficult because I don’t remember much of my childhood and my mother died several years ago. But it’s all there, in my unconscious. I “just” need to get in there and find it. So, that means less time sleeping and eating and watching TV and more time writing and doing active imagination and creative activities that will allow the unconscious to make itself known to me. I hope to start adding posts on creativity very soon—I’m working on a presentation on “Creativity and Transformation” to be given here in Kansas City and then in Phoenix next year. So, stay tuned!
Part 1 of this post is here.