We are currently undergoing a global spiritual crisis on the Planet.
I am not the first one to talk about it. Professor Joseph Campbell and psychologist James Hillman have both talked about this loss of meaning in our world. Our spiritual symbols have been watered down and mass marketed, their sacredness washed away as they become something sold at the local New Age shop to adorn an altar devoid of intention.
This is where Depth Psychology, along with soul tending, comes in.
Depth psychology is defined as “the study of unconscious mental processes and motives,” and focuses greatly on symbolic meanings within the unconscious mind. When we are not in the regular practice of doing so, it may not seem easy to make sense of these very personal symbols. Sometimes looking for the deeper significance of ordinary, mundane events can be like walking through the desert, the classic trial presented in so many old texts, legends and myths. With soul tending, sometimes we have to walk through the metaphorical deserts of our daily life, holding onto the faith and certainty that there is something divine in the process, praying that we will find something of meaning—something holy—along our journey. And sometimes this meaning is found in very unexpected places.
I recently discovered one such surprise as I was preparing for an oral exam.
This exam was to procure licensure to practice psychotherapy here in Germany, where I live now. I started learning German about three years ago, and preparing for the exam about one year ago, but I was feeling very resistant and discouraged for a good long while. I was scared to face German public officials (three of them in one tiny room, questioning me), especially in a language so new to me.
Finally a good friend took me to the side and offered reassurance. “Look, you’re going to do this. You can do this. This is just a hump you have to get over.” Her words sparked something in me, pushing me out of my funk. From that day forward, I started studying diligently—a little bit at a time—and the momentum of my energy snowballed until, suddenly, it was time for the test.
During the whole week of the exam, the symbol of a lion kept showing up.
Ten days before the test, I had spent the weekend at a women’s theater workshop with other Spanish-speakers, and the topic of me being a great “lioness” had been mentioned. Not only am I a Leo in Western astrology, but I also played the lion role so well in the theater improvisation we were doing that some of the women were moved to remark on it. I felt their reactions stirring something uncomfortable within me. Is this something I need to tone down? Am I intimidating? Scary?
For days I allowed myself to witness these thoughts and feelings, desperate to make sense of them.
And then, on the night before the test, the awareness came to me of how wonderfully protective the energy of the Lioness can be. I remembered feeling that Lioness energy years earlier, in court, when I heard the woman judge uttering a sentence in my favor. It was as though I could feel the verdict being spoken. It was harsh but it was also total justice, and better than I could have imagined. The Lioness had offered her protection to a mother and her child: I would continue having full custody of my son, and my husband would be allowed to adopt him.
I remembered, too, that in Rastafarian tradition the lion is the fierce and brave king of the jungle who also symbolizes justice. Then I recalled the two lions flanking the library of my Alma Mater, Columbia University in New York. I felt so grateful for the Lion energy and its fierce protection. That strength can feel amazing, especially when we are in need of safety or justice.
Sitting with these thoughts, I wondered why we tend to think of only gentle animals as God, like deer or lambs.
I looked up (online) the symbol of the lion and saw its connection to Israel as “the Lion of Judah” (Judaism). King Solomon (my son’s name is Solomon, by the way) was of that lineage, and together with the Queen of Sheba gave birth to the Solomonic Dynasty—the rulers of Ethiopia all the way to Haile Selassie, and thus also the Rastafarian tradition!
And then I remembered my grandfather’s name, Arie Leib, which literally means “Lion Lion”—first in Hebrew, second in Yiddish!
With this realization, my paternal ancestors were suddenly beside me: the ones who had fled from Poland and Ukraine during World War II, persecuted (and even killed) during the Holocaust. I could feel them all with me on this evening before the test. I was in tears as I felt their support and love for me, as well as my own fierce commitment to them to pass this test here in Germany, and to release the multi-generational trauma held in my cells.
Now that I live here with my German husband, I notice all of the multi-generational trauma in my cells that comes up. I realize that, as I face these official exams in German, I am releasing on some level the trauma done to me and my ancestors. When I had first met my husband, of course I was cognitively aware that his being German was a healing opportunity, given my own background, and that I was raised in such a way that I never imagined marrying a German let alone moving to Germany. It’s not that my family criticized Germans. It was more of an acknowledgement of the pain that was suffered there by our family, and an agreement to never go back there.
As a therapist and coach I tend to take on opportunities for healing old traumas, both personal and collective.
When I first met my husband I saw our relationship as just such an opportunity. However, I did not realize I would experience resistance to the language and culture at such a physical level—within my body and nervous system—as I did once I moved there. Every time they demanded yet another piece of paper to “qualify” me professionally, it felt emotionally personal. It was no coincidence that Germany is very demanding about recognizing psychology degrees.
The situation catalyzed a dynamic in which I have faced the need for approval and recognition as I am, to take tests before German officials and “prove myself worthy”—all of which has stirred the stuff deep down in my cells. It shows up as fear, as resistance, as anger, and as thoughts of Why do I have to do this? I should not have to, especially after what they’ve done to my people, my ancestors. It felt so strict and sterile.
I had been praying that this test would not just be just another meaningless piece of bureaucratic red tape.
I needed it to be more, to be tied together with my soul. And suddenly there I was, the night before, after months and months of preparation, so connected to my ancestors, crying on my bed, with so much meaning in my life… It was as though I myself—with no need to control or plan it consciously—was doing some serious reparation work for not only myself but also my ancestral lineage and family tree.
This is soul tending.
It’s being open to finding God in unexpected forms, and exploring the meaning therein.
In a world such as the one we are faced with today—with the spiritual crisis we are experiencing, often living away from family and birthplace, and estranged from the religions or beliefs we grew up with—most of us struggle to find meaning. This includes not only the political events that shape our collective experience, but also the smaller but no less impactful events of our individual lives. If we cannot find meaning we may become depressed or angry, wrapped in a sense of hopelessness and futility.
We can, however, manage this struggle in a healthy way.
Through deliberately carving out time to acknowledge our deeper feelings, emotions, and history—and note their connection with our today—with the use of some helpful depth psychology concepts, we are capable of reviving the deep meaning and connection that is to be found in all the events of our lives. We can then also find ourselves powerfully initiated and with meaningful experiences that help us continue to give shape to our lives in a way that is beautiful and fulfilling.