Interviews

Hear it First Hand.

 

Dr Michael Conforti

Interviewed by Dr Susannah Benson on May 25, 2015

When did your interest in dreams begin?

It all began with the “boy who would be king”. I was a freshman at City University in New York, and volunteering at Willowbrook State School, an institution for severely physical and mentally disabled children. This was shortly after Geraldo Rivera’s expose on the school revealed the truth about its deplorable conditions. While there is much to say about the squalor these poor children had to live in, this story is about one special child.

I never did know his name, but came to know something unique about him. Each day he would languish in this back ward, staring into space, into the crevices of the brick wall, and for all intents and purposes, was lost to this world. Aside from sleeping and eating he spent virtually every minute of his life in this prison. However each day at 2 in the afternoon, there opened a crack in his world. This was the time when all the children had a moment of freedom, and were allowed to go outdoors and play. For many this simply meant shifting their vacuous stare to the outdoors, and for others, provided a moment to breathe in the fresh air, and for those who could, would run, somewhere, nowhere, just to run because it was what their bodies needed to do.

Once the doors opened, this king ran with all his might to the garden, picking flowers, which as was his daily ritual, crafted into a crown which he placed on his head. For those precious moments his life had changed. His was now a world animated by some spirit, some hope, and some force which all feared was forever lost. But here in this magical garden, he was crowned king of his world.

Transported to this other world where little boys and girls ran through the fields, picked flowers, maybe even flirted with each other, they tasted something of another life.

I will never forget this experience, this daily crossing of thresholds, this infusion of life into a world where virtually all hope been extinguished For our little king, this flower garden was his paradise, his world where he could breathe freely, and even look like other children. Something profound happened to him though his relationship with the garden and the crown. As though anointed into a regal position, this symbol was his chariot carrying him on this journey across worlds, across times. It was this one and only symbol which created the conditions for this transformation. Here I learned not only the power of an image but the power of space and time. This sacred space of the garden, and this time away from hell, allowed him to find that one image that could open the door to this other world.

Here I learned of the innate energy contained within an image, of its ability to so dramatically change a life, and how something in us knows how to create conditions where the divine will manifest.

This is where it all began, a journey now lasting for over 30 years.

What led you to extend your interest into the public sphere?

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I saw far too much of the underbelly of life. Violence in the streets, in our homes, and for many of us, the oppression felt by these first generation Italian families. While my grandparents left the Southern Italian towns of Palermo, Sicily, Region Calabria and Salerno, on the Amalfi Coast, they carried their traditions, dialects and ways of life with them, for better and for worse. I truly adore my culture and virtually everything about the Italian psyche. So too I know its shadow, the sadness, the poverty of Southern Italy, and the fact that while ours is a matriarchal culture, men pretended to be king of the home. But much of this power was expressed in “questionable” ways.

There are many experiences which capture both the joy and the oppression which stirred in me the desire to make things different. Sunday dinners where 8 of us would sit down to eat, and within the next two hours, there would be 40 of us, sitting on boards laid between chairs to make room for everyone. And there was always more pasta to put into the pot. What mattered was being together. My father and each of his 10 brothers and sisters brought their own children and families to the table and the tables grew longer by the year and what was a meal for 8 then 20, then 40 continued to grow. While we just about ran out of tables, chairs and those ‘special boards to sit on”, there was always room in our hearts, so we just sat on each other’s laps, sat on the floor, wherever. And unlike modern society, in our family children were part of every event, every meal and so too, every funeral. There were never an occasion where the children ate at separate tables, or ate before or after the grownups. We had to be together to feel the enduring spirit of our culture, the encouragement, to keep moving on in life, and to keep alive what was in our soul. Our immigrant grandparents presided over every event. In fact I am returning to Sicily to lecture this summer and will dedicate this talk to my grandmother from Palermo, Emmanuela Emmanuelle. Being with family was heaven. So too there was the dialects, Sicilian and Napolitano, which somehow, even to us as children told a story. I still love it all.

And then there was the violence, the inability to find a firewall between emotions and action. A verbal and physical Tourettes, where what one felt, one immediately expressed. There is never a moment of neutrality within the Italian culture. Emotions rarely have time to simmer, because once felt, they are expressed, and all too often regardless of the consequences. I recall the scene in the film “Analyze This” with Billy Crystal, portraying the psychiatrist and Robert De Niro as the Capo di Capo of the Mafia whose sudden outbreak of tears and emotions brings him to the doctor’s office for help. Hoping to release these underlying emotions, Billy Crystal encourages this once vicious mob boss to “hit the couch”, ala Fritz Perl’s. Following his therapists advice, De Niro takes out his gun, and fires shots into the couch, and afterwards says in that classic De Niro manner; “That was good, I feel better” and ends with that now infamous line, “You’re good Doc, your good!!!!” Not too far from how many of our own family members would react, and something far too many of us knew as daily fare.

Something had to be released and reconciled in the hearts of these first and second generation people. Something was still far too explosive, far too prone to violence and far too unware of the consequences of their behaviour on those they loved. Perhaps most importantly, they understood little if anything about these unconscious influences which blew through them like sleet though a broken window. There was a tortured quality about them and far too many of them remained lost within this vortex of emotion.

The outer world of politics, religion and business is also driven by these unconscious forces of myopic prejudices, and vicious greed coupled with those archetypal influences which affect all leaders. So too, I have seen the lingering horrors in the eyes of the Jewish people who will never forget, nor should they. And now, with Isis, with terrorism with child soldiers, the world is spinning ever faster and faster towards some destination which should make us fear for what may come. Every act of abuse, of madness, of torture, reflects the workings of the dark unconscious, and the irruption of archetypal energies eclipsing the individual and collective psyche.

Following in the tradition begun by Jung, and the first generation of Jungians, I have begun to look at the presence and workings of psyche in the political world, within corporate organizations, where I have consulted for Mattel Toy Company and Proctor and Gamble, and now for the past 10 years, in the film industry where I have served as a script consult for a number of Hollywood films. For this work, I have developed a term, archetypal cinematic coherence to describe the presence or lack of coherence in the expression of archetypes in film and stories. So too I have consulted on international border disputes of a Central American country, whose borders have been bloodied for more than 400 years. In each of these situations, I look at the underlying archetypes which have generated the phenomena. This work has taken me to many countries, including teaching in Italy, Denmark, The Jung Institute in Zurich, and recent invitations to teach and present this work in Bogota Columbia, Moscow, Russia and hopefully in February, to bring this work to Australia.

Do you have a regular dream practice?

I have been in practice for more than 30 years, and since 1987, have practiced full time as a Jungian Analyst. Dream work is an essential part of my practice, and I see it as a way of listening to the voices of angels and demons, as they speak of the ways of life for the individual and collective psyche. Here, a vision as clear as those found in the ancient wisdom tales, we learn to listen to the voice of the transcendent, to the Self, to God.

In addition to my clinical practice as a Jungian Analysis, I offer training for professionals and laypersons in the art and discipline of Dream Patterning. This work focuses on discerning the relationship and difference between our complex which may be triggered by a dream to the inherent archetype represented by the dream. It is this primacy of the image which has all too quickly been occluded in contemporary Jungian practice and in modern dream work. Where Jung and the elders found the image to be of a profound and spiritual order revealing core aspects of life, morality and destiny, we now unfortunately find yet another opportunity to project the voice of our own personal values, complexes, needs and biases. In doing so, the divine is eclipsed by the personal and the eternal lost to the temporal. My work stresses the objective nature of the image, and sees the image as an expression of the archetypal field which speaks to humanity’s journey through life, and offers ways to engage with what is truly transcendent.

Why are dreams important in your life?

I am continually struck by the dreams capacity to so clearly capture a psychological and spiritual situation. So too, it provides a way to enter its world and to see how to bring this profound message about life into daily life.

The dreams present an expansive portrait of the world and psyche, allowing us to see beyond the contours of our own biases. The dream is a clear expression of divine wisdom, and for all these reasons they remain central in my life and work.

Could you share a dream with us that was transformational for you?

You’re bringing back powerful memories with this question. While there are a number of dreams I will never forget, there is one in particular which I would like to discuss. This dream appeared the night before my admission interview for the New York Jung Institute.

The Dream

In this dream, the three interviewing analysts asked me to leave the interview room after only 20 minutes. No sooner had I left the room, their door re-opened and they each gave men a warm embrace and welcomed me to the Institute. Then as part of this acceptance they gave me a library card for the Jung Institute Library.

---End of Dream

So what is it they say about life imitating art, or field preceding form? At about 20 minutes into the actual interview, and having told them this dream, they asked me to leave the room, and as I no sooner left the room, the door reopened and they all embraced me as they had in the dream and welcomed me to the Institute. This was truly an emotional moment as I had so deeply wanted to be a Jungian analyst and saw this as the next step to a process begun when I made my pilgrimage to Zurich at 19 years of age.

This dream anticipated what was to be one of the most important journeys in my life, one that I continue to cherish to this day. A destiny that had been set in motion during that maiden voyage to Zurich was now refuelled by their recognition of the prophetic nature of the dream.

The giving of the library card was an essential and also prophetic aspect of this dream. For much of my life I navigated the world with a strong and at times frighteningly accurate intuition. Now, in crossing the threshold into analytic training, it was time to complement this intuition with the development of a discerning thinking function - hence the library card. Following the gossamer thread of destiny, psyche brought me to the office of Dr Yoram Kaufmann. Originally trained as a theoretical physicist in his native Israeli prior to training as a Jungian Analyst, Dr Kaufmann is a truly gifted Analyst whose work on the Objective Psyche and the innate energy of the image, stands as a tremendous contribution to our understanding of dreams. Then in 1982, I began supervision with Dr Robert Langs, pioneering and gifted analyst, whose work on unconscious communication and unconscious experience provides insights into the nature of psyche and ways psyche informs the couplings occurring within the therapeutic relationships.

Each of these experiences allowed for the development of a thinking function, which as destiny would have it, was crucial for the development of the Assisi Institute in 1987. Similar to the work of the Eranos Conferences, the interdisciplinary nature of the Assisi Programs looks at the Confluence of Matter and Spirit by bringing together a faculty of Jungians, theologians, artists and scientist to discuss the presence and influence of psyche within the internal and external world.

So much of my future was contained in this dream, and I thank God that this Admission Committee saw into its inherent meaning, and accepted me into training.


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