Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman
Stress is interesting. It can be a good news or a bad news matter. Something you can or cannot get a handle on. Stress is what makes life worth living, or can make it a living hell.
Every sight, sound, taste, and smell, every brush of sensation over your skin, every conscious and unconscious thought or piece of news from the outside can be a source of stress.
It can last a moment, an hour, a day, or in the extreme, it can linger for years. For me, as I described in my post of July 23 my stress lasted 36 hours following the onset of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992.
This week I will reflect on what I believe happened that brought me from stress to peace during that time.
Restlessness, unspent energy, and unresolved stress, these were my constant companions during those hours. My stress was feeding itself. I found it difficult to fall asleep. My concentration faltered. I wandered, or drove, outwardly without purpose.
Although my behavior appeared mindless, however, I didn’t move in a fog. I was aware of what I was doing. Yet, I didn’t stop myself. Nor did I question where I was going. I allowed whatever was directing me to have its way.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who is well-known for his work in dream analysis, and who has described some of the hidden workings of the human psyche, might have said I was being led by my unconscious, an all-knowing part of the psyche that plays an important role in helping the physical body maintain balance.
“When the conscious life is too stressful,” Jung wrote, “the unconscious will take over. Let it…..”
And I did let it. It was as if my unconscious knew that my physical body was being threatened by my stress and that I was unable to make healthy decisions or to function in a healthful way.
Whether Jung’s theory of unconscious interception can be applied in my situation cannot really be known. But, my consciousness had certainly been disrupted, and there seemed to be something else making decisions for me. I think my unconscious self knew, without the interference of reason or logic, what I needed to do.
But, why the wandering? Who knows? Perhaps for my healing, I needed to be out there, to see what was going on, to connect with the world outside my home and my neighborhood. Perhaps my fear would have kept me from venturing out, had my unconscious not intervened.
In that sense, you might say that my conscious and unconscious beings collaborated, to use Jung’s expression, to bring me to a healthful state.
Here’s how I see the collaboration working:
During the first twenty-four hours, although I wasn’t making any conscious decisions, I was aware of what I was doing. I knew that I was following some inner voice that was telling me to wander, to drive around.
On the second morning when I awoke, however, I made a conscious decision – to drive to the Crenshaw. But, even though there was no obvious reason to drive to the Crenshaw, I didn’t question my decision. I simply followed whatever it was that told me I needed to be there. Collaboration.
Once I arrived and observed the rebuilding and the human connection in the midst of so much destruction, I understood. A change came over me, and I felt hopeful.
But it didn’t end there. I had to continue to relinquish conscious control to my unconscious. When I went to Home Depot, my psyche knew that I needed some direct contact with the natural world. I needed to feel the mud ooze through my fingers, to tap into that primal self that connects me to all of nature. More collaboration.
It’s personal. I was led to planting tomatoes as the vehicle for my healing, even though I had never been a gardener. I had always disliked working in the garden. Yet, there I was, digging in the mud, creating a garden, never once questioning why. The ultimate collaboration. Ignore the preferences of my conscious life and follow the signals of my unconscious.
A confession: My tomato plants barely thrived.