Interview with Susan M. Tiberghien – Writing Toward Wholeness
Interview with Susan M. Tiberghien – Writing Toward Wholeness – Écrire vers la plénitude
To keep your own red book, to write to your soul, this is the main thread of Writing Toward Wholeness by Susan Tiberghien. Jungian author, well known in the Anglo-Saxon world, this is her first book in French, translated by Christian Raguet.
We have wished to ask her a few questions to which she accepted to reply.
You write that Writing Toward Wholeness is the fruit of over thirty years of Jungian readings and reflections.
Susan Tiberghien, When I turned 50, I returned to my desire to write, to be a writer. I had married a Frenchman and together raised our six children in different countries in Europe. In order to pursue my dream, I attended a two-week writing workshop in the United States which helped me retrieve my mother tongue.
I started publishing short stories and directing workshops for writers. I was reading a great deal, our great writers and spiritual masters. I was intrigued by C.G. Jung who, while being a scientist, spoke of the soul. His autobiography, Memories Dreams, Reflections, encouraged me to take courses at the C.G. Jung Institute in Küsnacht near Zurich, and to enter into analysis.
These years of reflection, this interior voyage, led me to find myself—wife, mother, writer, teacher, and searcher. Today I continue to follow this path toward wholeness through writing, reading and prayer. This is the path of thirty years of which I speak in Writing Toward Wholeness.
Murray Stein, who prefaced your book, wrote “Any person can benefit from keeping a journal of experiences, dreams, associations, and feelings.”
Stein in his excellent Foreword continues, “This project is for self-knowledge… We write in a journal to become and to know who we are.” Therefore, the real work in journal writing, is a work on oneself.
Marion Woodman writes in her book Bone, Dying into Life, that journal writing is a way for her to discuss with herself. “I hear my truth resonating in my own daily experience.”
Today, I continue to converse with myself in my journals. Once we open the door to the unconscious through writing, as through dreaming, the depths only continue to deepen.
There are many testimonies where Jung is counselling his analysands to write everything down. You speak of his counsel to Christiana Morgan noted in her analysis journal in 1926.
Jung’s counsel to Christiana Morgan is addressed to each of us today.
“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can, in some beautifully bound book…it will be your church—your cathedral—the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal…for in that book is your soul.”
Jung counsels us to write down our dreams, our reflections, our desires. Our journals become our chapels, there where in silence, we speak with our soul.
My journal is not a large beautifully bound book. It fits into my purse so that it is always close at hand. When I read anew the pages, I find the footprints of my soul. I do not write each day. Rather I write when I wish to understand something, when I wish to deepen a thought, when my soul calls to me.
Then the journal becomes a door to the unconscious. I enter the imaginal world and listen to who is calling me. I benefit from Jung’s examples, his years of confrontation with the unconscious, his search for his soul. I read and studied deeply the Red Book. The way Jung addresses each image, which he will later call active imagination, has become my way of connecting the conscious and the unconscious.
In the Larousse dictionary, wholeness is the condition of the person who has reached his highest degree of development, who is at the summit of his force, his intensity, his entirety. Is there a connection between wholeness and the notion of totality for Jung?
I see well the connection between wholeness and the notion of totality. Jung himself speaks of it when he relates his last dream to Ruth Bailey. “He saw a big round block of stone in a high bare place and on it was inscribed, ‘This shall be a sign unto you of wholeness and oneness.’”
However, I discern in the word wholeness a spiritual meaning that I do not discern in the word totality.
In my book, I define wholeness as the unity of all creation. In the word unity, there is a feeling of harmony that I do not find in the word totality.
It is this feeling of harmony that Jung experienced in his last years. He writes in
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “There is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in man. The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things.”
A feeling of kinship with all things, with plants, animals, clouds, with the eternal in humankind. It is this sense of kinship, of harmony, of communion that I am searching for in Writing Toward Wholeness.
Your book is filled with numerous examples. What are the main rules of keeping a journal ?
I would say there are no rules. There are a thousand ways to keep a journal. It is the practice that counts: to sit down and write freely.
I suggest a time limit to avoid writing pages and pages. Since I see journaling as a way to deepen one’s life, one’s sense of self, one’s relationship with one’s soul, I propose a slow writing, a meditative writing. Often half a page suffices to touch your soul.
I will give however one rule: note the day, the time, and the place. This way you will be able more easily to find where you were, to find anew “the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal.”
You evoke the role of writing in the lives of Thomas Merton, Etty Hillesum, and many other authors…
I would like to speak here of the fundamental importance of writing for Thomas Merton, Etty Hillesum and C.G. Jung.
Thomas Merton was a writer before he was a monk. He defined himself in and through his writing: the young boy who lost his parents, the undisciplined student, the dissipated vagabond, the poet, the monk, the mystic. It is in writing that he was able to discover his own self: seeker of God. From his entrance into the Cistercian monastery, he kept a journal. It is here that he reveals himself, on the pages of the numerous volumes of his journals.
Etty Hillesum by contrast kept a journal for only three years from when she was 26 in 1941 until her death at Auschwitz in 1934. She started to journal to uncover the force to continue to live the nightmare that was enveloping her as a Jew in Amsterdam at the height of the Nazi genocide.
In looking for that force within herself, she found God. Day after day, she kept the chronicle of the discovery of her soul. Three months before her death, she was able to write in her journal, An Interrupted Life, “The beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active, and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches.”
I turn now to C.G. Jung who insists on the importance of writing down our dreams, our active imaginations, our conversations with our soul. In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung gives a description of active imagination, concluding with this advice, “Fix the whole procedure in writing at the time of occurrence for you… [for] that will counteract tendency to self-deception.”
It is all too easy to not believe what our soul is whispering to us.
This is well what Jung did when he returned to his black books in 1913, after having left them aside for several years, to write down his confrontation with the unconscious and to then transcribe it into the Red Book with artistic calligraphy.
For sixteen years, Jung continued to write commentaries about each vision, as he continued to dialogue with his soul. As Murray Stein writes in the Foreword, “He undertook a risky venture and survived. For us, the risks are not so great because we have his story of the journey as a support.”
To keep a journal is to keep a record of a voyage, a voyage of the soul toward God.
To conclude, give us three key elements in successfully keeping a journal to accompany us as we journey toward wholeness.
A first element: our journals are our own red books. In order that they accompany us toward wholeness, it is necessary to fully engage in the writing. To want to write. Each of us seeks to better understand ourselves. Keeping a journal is one way. Jung counsels us to do so.
A second element would be to sit down and write. Too easily we have the tendency to wait for the next day. So that this work becomes a practice like prayer, try to devote a half an hour, even a quarter of an hour, each day to journaling. Or if you prefer an hour every two days. Find your own rhythm and stay with it.
The third element: to be sincere in what you write. There is no room in journaling for artifice. We cannot dissimulate, make believe, appear otherwise. When we write in a journal, we are alone with ourselves in front of the empty page.
When our journals are sincere, they become our chapels. They become the home of our soul.
We thank Susan Tiberghien to have taken the time to present her work. We recommend Writing Toward Wholeness to all who wish to embark upon this adventure.
Espace Francophone Jungien (EFJ), which translates roughly to “Jungian Francophone Environment,” is a content publishing platform dedicated to Jungian psychology and written entirely in French. In addition to featuring articles, book presentations, and interviews, it offers interactive seminars (workshops) based on the ideas of C.G. Jung and his successors.