The first time I saw Jere Truer, he was ensconced before a fireplace in a small meeting hall leading a group of men in drumming. This was completely new to me at the time, and Jere with his light beard and transported countenance reminded me of some wise satyr out of Picasso. Decades have passed since that first glimpse, as well as many stages of the friendship that developed out of that weekend, but on some deep level in my psyche Jere is still that drum master who taught me and many other men the samba beat that has led to so much ecstatic rhythmic expression in and out of our conferences and retreats.
I attended that first-ever men’s retreat in the mid-1980s at a camp west of the Twin Cities called Decision Hills. Robert Bly’s men’s work was just getting started in our area, and he did not teach at that retreat. Rather, the teaching — much of it centered around storytelling — was handled by others, including a remarkable southern Minnesota farmer/storyteller named Michael Cotter. And before Michael Meade and before Miguel Rivera, Jere Truer was my drum teacher.
Over time I, along with the rest of the Twin Cities men’s work community, came to know Jere for the multi-faceted, multi-talented man who he is, not only drummer (and drum-maker), but poet, essayist, musician, songwriter, and psychotherapist, as well as generous and thoughtful friend. Jere has been away from Minnesota for a while now, but many reading his essay here will remember him vividly from the 80s and 90s in Minnesota. As the years have passed and, it seems, America descended more precipitously into its madness, Jere’s response has become ever more thoughtful and soulful. In the essay you are about to read, we tour with him the heart of our nation’s darkness, which, as he points out, is really the old darkness of a society that has consistently refused to heal its long-standing wounds of racism, war, and division. The concept of “Malignant Egophrenia” he introduces here will be new to most of us, and especially useful as a conceptual tool in understanding our immediate future under a Trump administration. This is extremely valuable work Jere Truer is doing, and it’s a pleasure to introduce and welcome him to this forum.
~ Thomas R. Smith
The Long Dark Shadow, Within and Without
As a psychotherapist in private practice, I have encountered many clients who have struggled and despaired about the military efforts in Iraq and the skullduggery used to accomplish those ends.
In the early part of our century, a new strain of a certain old virus irrupted in our collective psyche and manifested in war. That virus was named Malignant Egophrenia by Paul Levy. Levy has written extensively about this condition, our condition, and what follows is my personal reflection and account of how I have worked with the virus. I recommend his book, The Madness of George W. Bush: a Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis, (2006).
Job’s Evil Dreams by William Blake
Borrowing from James Hillman who bade psychotherapists to view their offices and sessions with clients as “cells of insurrection,” I have marched in protests and written about the war as well. And I certainly have confronted darkness within myself. In the past few years, however, I have been troubled by the thoughts and responses arising in me that surprised me: harsh judgment, lack of empathy, and general exasperation and lack of patience.
I first encountered the term, “malignant egophrenia” sometime around 2005, give or take a year or two. It was in a paper published by Paul Levy. His term catalyzed something within me in that I had a term and a cause, if nothing else.
Malignant obviously denotes cancer and has as its root the word malign. To refer to Hillman once again, he wrote that cancer is the perfect metaphorical illness of our epoch: as a culture we are all about bigger, better, more, grow-grow-grow.
Egophrenia is a term similar to its distant cousin, schizophrenia. With Egophrenia the soul or Self is subsumed or silenced by the needs of an ever encroaching Ego.
Job Rebuked by his Friends by William Blake
In a healthy person, the Ego is the filter and mediator within the psyche that mediates between the Id and the Superego, but also regulates the defense mechanisms in order to preserve sanity, life, and normative behavior. In the case of Malignant Egophrenia, the Ego bullies the rest of the psyche, if you will, and its mode of self-preservation runs amok. If Spirit and Soul are devalued, they go underground. And depending on the intensity of the repression or oppression, they emerge through psychopathology. An apt metaphor, perhaps, is the Golem from Jewish folklore, a monster created out of mud to defend a people who continues to destroy not only the enemy but the people it was summoned to protect. A healthy Ego is resilient and flexible, not rigid and defensive.
Over the past three decades, I have had the pleasure to know Robert Bly, and what I write next flows from a stream of thought I took away from several conversations and workshops. Bly saw the Vietnam catastrophe as coming about from our country’s inability, by way of its unconsciousness, to heal the wound of the Civil War. So began what is called a Repetition Compulsion wherein the same behaviors are repeated ad infinitum in an unconscious attempt to stop the pain. In this view, the Civil War came about as a result of not being able to reconcile how we, as a nation and government, had treated Blacks. The issue of slavery was never resolved among the original thirteen colonies and, in our haste to form an independent country while at war with England, the issue got put off and repressed. In fact, the Constitution left it up to each state to deal with. And so the Civil War raged, Vietnam hemorrhaged, Affirmative Action is on death row, and we have been in “a national malaise” in Jimmy Carter’s words, ever since.
When grief and shame are not dealt with, a person acts out in any number of ways: rage, shameful behavior, heightened eroticism, and anesthetization through addictive behaviors and substances. Even after 9/11, as the rest of the world grieved with us and poured ashes over their heads, we said a quick prayer and unleashed our vengeful rage upon Afghanistan, and then Iraq, and then….
The parallels with Germany in the Twentieth Century are uncanny, as many have noted. Jung had visions of a Great War (WWI and WWII combined) in 1913 before it began. He seriously considered himself to be having a psychotic breakdown. Being the genius he was, he managed to document his psychoses in The Red Book. He was relieved of his self-diagnosis quite quickly as his visions were validated by unfolding events in Europe and Asia. He became convinced that his experience constellated something in him that catalyzed Jungian Psychology as we know it.
The Path to Wellbeing by C.G.Jung (The Red Book)
I find myself puzzling over what to do about this situation: the world is desecrated, the gods are enraged, narcissistic sociopaths have stepped in as psychopomps, lies flow as freely as water used to, and things have generally run amok.
The impulse to do something is symptomatic of Malignant Egophrenia. During what had become an endless campaign season, I had gotten very anxious, drunk too much, developed high blood pressure, and have had panic episodes wake me from troubled sleep. I am sixty-four and have a physical condition that limits my mobility and strength. As a result, I have moved to a warm climate and mostly retired from my private practice. And as a further result of that, my income is limited. My ability to contribute financially to political causes is a joke, nor can I stand on the picket lines or walk the streets in protest. Nevertheless, I have irrationally believed it is up to me to turn the dark tide. Do you see how panic builds from the fear associated with not doing something, anything?
The horrifically dark fantasy of acting out some bizarre and rash act in service to doing something also has occurred more than once. Am I enraged about what has happened to the people I love and the culture I love? Yes, absolutely. But, my conscious rage does not drive me to commit heinous acts, nor does it bid me give all my money to Bernie. These fantasies and impulses come from some other place. And my agitation has compelled me to write this article instead.
Luckily, I have been influenced by Bly, Hillman, Jung, Meade, and the countless people who have done the deep spiritual and psychological work. Robert has made the Insatiable Soul and the Nafs conscious. Jung has given me a road map through Hades, as well as a list of the gods and demons. And sometime shortly before his death, James Hillman said that, in addressing the field of psychology, we do ourselves a disservice by speaking of illnesses rather than demons. So consider malefic influence and how we, in our liberal humanistic and Protestant way of life have created a flat world whereby all kinds of vermin can skitter and scuttle beneath the threshold.
The sole thing that has not been done on a large scale is grieving. Since the election, small groups have publicly grieved with astonishing results as others have joined in the ritual of grief. I mentioned ashes being poured on heads earlier, a reference to the turning point in Job. Job insisted on his blamelessness while others came up with all kinds of excuses and solutions. When all options were exhausted and all arguments moot, in helplessness they all wept and poured ashes on their heads. The times to come may bring the end of all we value and hold dear. I do not know. Perhaps we should meet beside the river and weep.
And what happens on the other side of grief? Is there not quiet sadness and reflection after the tearing and rending of clothes? And a slow rebuilding of our world? Does not gross inflation lead to stunning deflation, and then to sobriety?
Paul Levy was hopeful that the fever would break, but it has not broken yet. But history says that it will. The Soul must traverse its madness in order to be healed, whether it is personal, transpersonal, or political. Once relieved of Wotan, Germany was healed. I have lately begun to anticipate my life on the other side of this demonic possession and now choose to think of myself as Dutch. A Dutchman from a once great empire who now lives in a very nice peaceful little country.
~ Jere Truer
Harvest At La Crau With Montmajour by Vincent Van Gogh
WHAT DO I HAVE TO SAY FOR MYSELF
On a Saturday morning midway through
The middle of my life I sat at Java Jacks
Coffeeshop with an open journal,
An empty cup, and nothing to say.
At a nearby table, three intent people
Leaned in upon a silent, broken woman.
One man, jowls quivering,
Demanded, What have you to say for yourself?
A year, more or less, has come and gone.
The question lit a burning coal in my mind.
What of this self?
Shall I say, with my often self-deprecating humor that I am a moderately successful
Shrink who would be a failing poet,
Or a sometime poet who should stick to Business? Or perhaps a confused father,
A friend to many who don’t really know him
Because he dabbles in secrets?
Or gloomily answer that perhaps this
So-called self built a perfect house
For over fifty years in which he cannot live.
Meanwhile a dreamy, inattentive boy
Has lain prone, making pictures on the floor
While humming to himself. That boy’s elders
Worry what will become of him,
So sensitive and all.
But to be fair, we should say this self is
A man who listens to those who have
No witness, whose spirits are crushed
In the grinding wheels of the world.
And it’s in what they say—as in the root
Of sake, that old word for soul—
That something mysterious happens.
There is a sea that lies beyond this
Poor man’s confusion wherein drops
The moist precipitate of all his carried griefs
And wandering thoughts.
And so if all poetry
Is true dream interpretation,
Then what dreams this dreamer—
Sitting here before you
In nothing but whiteness, blankness.
~ Jere Truer
Job at Prayer by Marc Chagall
Paul Levy http://www.awakeninthedream.com/