"I’m left with the recognition that participation mystique represents, for me, a bridge between the world of the psyche and the world of my concrete body, the world of the other and the world I see as mine. These worlds are filled with perceptions, beliefs, sensibilities, fantasies and landscapes whose boundaries are more permeable than I’d ever thought possible, until I went to Kauai, on a writer’s retreat, to escape the participation mystique of another Ohio winter. The Self, in Jungian terms, is nothing if not ironic!
But these experiences point to more than a wry reflection based on the awareness that things didn’t go as I expected. It’s hard to miss the importance of these large gates one meets in a lifetime, gates whose opening changes our perceptions of what we see and hear. This experience certainly accomplished that for me, personally and professionally, and from such an unexpected teacher. Of course, I take Jung’s caution about the danger of the numinous to heart, and know that while participation mystique is an interesting and useful new tool, it is not the only or the best or the ultimate of analytic tools. Nor is it the wrong tool, if entered into unsuccessfully. But it deserves a place of recognition that I think it’s been deprived of for some time.
I have long believed there is an aesthetic of soul, discernible more easily in the dreams and fantasies I’m privileged to witness in the course of the analytic work I do. But I feel now like I’ve been given another dimension of psyche’s beauty, and I’ve tucked it away in the reference department of my consulting room attention. For the spirit of place discovered for me in Kauai, or in the story of Swift Gazelle, or in the wisdom and discipline demanded by the crazy woman of my dream, now adds a vitality and dimension to my work that I appreciate exponentially, as time goes on and my skill in accessing it increases. These are joined by the spirits of place invited into my sphere as I listen differently to the “songs never heard before” from my patients.
I agree with Jung when he says, “It was as though a breath of the great world of stars and endless space had touched me, or as if a spirit had invisibly entered the room." I think this is exactly what happens when we are inducted into participation mystique with a place, a piece of music, or the psyche of another opening to us in analysis." (p. 128)