I’d like to tell you about a particularly potent form of inner work that helped my daughter achieve her career goals. Julie was at Florida State University (Go Noles!) working on her Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy when the time came to write her dissertation. Suddenly, the psychic energy that had served her so well for so long hit a wall. The challenge before her seemed so daunting that she became immersed in a dark swamp of inertia. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get started and it seemed as if she might never bring closure to years of hard work.
Overcoming our natural resistance to undertaking and carrying out difficult tasks requiring months or years of concentrated and directed effort is, in the words of Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding, “a positive factor leading to self-discipline and culture, and on its development civilization largely depends.” Having struggled with the same challenge in my own doctoral studies, I knew what Julie was going through and offered to help.
A process I had used successfully to understand and address the needs of both sides of my own internal conflicts is called the Voice Dialogue. Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone developed this method and describe it thusly: “In using Voice Dialogue, we directly engage these subpersonalities or voices in a dialogue without the interference of a critical, embarrassed, or repressive protector/controller….The ego occupies a central physical space, and the subpersonalities play out their conflicts around it.”
Julie and I realized that the subpersonalities involved in her dilemma were her Innocent Child who wanted to relax and play instead of taking on adult responsibilities, and her Warrior who would be deeply ashamed if he didn’t fulfill his goals. Julie found two images to represent these warring energies. For her Innocent Child she chose her childhood doll, Dudgie. For her Warrior she chose a ceramic statue of a crouching black panther. She herself, of course, represented her ego.
Laying out four cushions on her living room floor we took our seats. I sat opposite Julie, and Dudgie and the panther faced each the other from the remaining two cushions. After lighting a candle to designate this as sacred work in a sacred place, Julie began by describing the problem. Then, moving to Dudgie’s cushion, she held her doll in her lap while giving voice to the youthful wishes and needs she represented. Next, Julie occupied her panther’s space and repeated the process from his perspective.
After Julie returned to her own cushion and summarized what she had learned we formulated a compromise to meet the needs of her inner adversaries. The solution to which all agreed was that if Innocent Child would let Warrior work for a certain number of hours every weekday without complaint, he would let her relax, play, eat her favorite foods, and watch her favorite TV shows on weekends and evenings when she wasn’t in class without laying a guilt trip on her. They also decided it might help if Julie checked in with me each week for encouragement and support.
The results of this creative work were immediate and dramatic. Something in that process opened up a dam and released enormous energy. Within a few months Julie completed and submitted her dissertation. A few months later, an empowered and very happy Dr. Julie embarked on her new career. Is this amazing or what? It’s a simple fact that each of us contains all the transforming power we need, and we can activate it by reaching across the sacred divide and befriending the otherness within.
It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave