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As scientific disciplines go, Jungian psychology was as “out there” as it gets -- somewhere on the fringe of a respectable course of study. As such, the staid character of Joseph L. Henderson made an unlikely match.

Psychoanalyst Thomas B. Kirsch of California probably knows as much about Henderson as anyone, and wrote his obituary for The New York Times. Writing earlier in “A Jungian Life,” Kirsch describes how important his own analysis with Henderson was:

“Joe’s primary analysis had been with Jung, and given my family history, I definitely needed someone who had been directly influenced by Jung. … Henderson was probably the only person who would have been acceptable to my parents.”

Kirsch also paints a picture of Joe’s demeanor:

“Henderson was formal and reserved. He dressed in English suits, and he was neither personal nor outgoing.” In a more personal setting, when Kirsch and his wife invited the Hendersons to dinner, what he remembered “most affectionately was Dr. Henderson going to our piano and starting to play some of the pieces I had studied as a child.” During another social occasion Kirsch noticed that there seemed to be much more affection between Joe and his wife Helena than there was between his own parents. “Around that time I asked Dr. Henderson if I could call him by his first name ‘Joe’. He said ‘Of course, you can call me by any name that you feel like.”

Despite his down-to-earth character, Henderson was not immune to the general accusations against the Jungians of being more mystical than scientific. They were known for referencing myths and other arcane subjects in their work, as well as practicing forms of divination such as the I Ching.

Jung struggled with the perception of mysticism his entire life. He was constantly reaffirming the science behind his psychology, while refusing to ignore the wealth of ancient wisdom that he could clearly see pertaining to the subject of his study. Analytical psychology roots the mind/psyche in the physical body, not as an epiphenomenon but as an integral system that has the same self-balancing tendencies as other biological systems that regulate the entire organism. In his classic volume “The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” Jung lays out his theories along scientific principles. The psyche is defined as an energy system, and its various quirks and complexes as the result of how energy flows -- or is stalled -- within that system. From this perspective it is pointless to describe a “mind-body connection” because it is impossible to imagine a disconnection between the two.

It is also important to note that Jung did not develop his model of the psyche theoretically, but strictly through clinical observation of mental patients along with his own intense introspection while exploring the hidden dimensions of the unconscious.

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Jung observed that roughly the first half of life involves developing an ego and persona -- those personal frames of reference to self-identity and relationship with the outer world. Everyone must assert themselves as best they can into the realms of love and power in order to become even remotely well adjusted to society. People generally develop an attitude of introversion or extroversion, and align themselves along one of the four primary functions of relating to the world: intellectually, emotionally, intuitively, or sensually. These functions lie along two poles of opposites: thinking-feeling, and intuition-sensation.

Developing such orientations is a natural and necessary process when growing up, but it also results in a one-sidedness and that poses a problem along the conscious-unconscious axis as one ages. Jung observed that the unconscious plays a “compensatory” role, acting as a sort of backseat driver whenever the conscious aspects of the personality get too extreme. Our world and human relationships are much too complex to fit into predetermined categories, so eventually we encounter a situation where the dominant attitude no longer serves us. For example, a person who has adopted an overly rational perspective on life (thinking type) will find himself quite helpless when faced with a spouse or friend in need of emotional comforting (feeling type). This results in conflict -- or rather a repeating series of conflicts -- that calls for a different approach.

Sensation and intuition are the other two functions that lie opposite each other in the four-part model of psychological types. Someone who focuses on the sensual will miss a great deal of life by avoiding the higher function and its connection with the divine, while someone who is deeply entrained with intuition will lack the benefits of being grounded in physical realities.

In the greater scheme of things, a person’s wholesale attitude will eventually be challenged. Regardless of which of the psychological approaches he or she has adopted, life brings about situations that force us to develop the lesser-used functions and become a more balanced person. Therefore, even someone who is not suffering from self-destructive psychological complexes, neuroses, or psychoses can benefit from the Jungian approach to wholeness. All they need to do is pay attention to the “symbols” tossed up by the unconscious mind, and follow them to a higher destiny.

When it came to tracing the origins of such symbols there was no more fertile ground than Henderson’s home country, where medicine men of the Western United States still practiced their ancient arts.

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Editor of the Elko Daily Free Press

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