An excerpt from Growing Up Jung, a memoir by Globe and Mail columnist Micah Toub:
It was a Saturday morning and my mother and I were out for brunch. I was less conversational than usual, anxious about something that had happened. It was all my 17-year-old psyche could focus on, but I wasn't sure if I could tell anyone else about it. But finally, I decided I could tell my mother.
"Mom," I said in as quiet a voice as I could, "I tried to have sex and I couldn't do it."
"What do you mean?" she asked. She looked concerned.
"I mean …" I scanned the tables nearby. "I mean I couldn't get an erection."
"You couldn't get an erection?" she repeated, at full volume.
"Mom!" A couple nearby glanced at us.
"Sorry," she said quietly. She laughed. "I was worried it was something really bad."
"This is really bad. What if I can never have sex?" I said, imagining all the celibate years ahead of me from that day until my death, all the gorgeous women just out of my frustrated reach. Life was not worth living any more. My mother stopped smiling.
"Well," she said, "there is a solution." She nodded silently for a moment, as if verifying to herself that, yes, she knew exactly what to do. She placed her hands on the table between us and she told me: "You have to be the erect penis in your life."
One of the cornerstones of Jungian psychology is Active Imagination. Some kids are told they have an active imagination, or even an overactive imagination, and what is meant by those compliments (or accusations) is pretty much in line with Jung's concept. Practising Jung's version means deliberately exploring one's fantasies and dreams by acting them out verbally or physically to read the message that one's unconscious is trying to communicate.
In 1913, Jung was on a train, travelling alone and daydreaming, when he had a disturbing vision. He saw in his head the Alps flooded and the mountains around Switzerland rising to protect his country from some unknown catastrophe. "I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands," Jung wrote in his memoir. "Then the whole sea turned to blood."
Jung tried to figure out what made him see these things - what was he repressing? - but decided in the end that he was simply "menaced by a psychosis."
The next year, the visions turned to dreams where an icy frost descended upon Europe in the summer, killing all living things. And then, that August, the world war broke out. Mystery solved! Jung felt he'd tapped into the psyche of "mankind in general," something he would later dub the collective unconscious. For the sake of the entire world, Jung felt it was his duty to get to the bottom of his fantasies, so he started practising what would become Active Imagination. He let the visions overtake him, spoke back to them, embodied characters from them, wrote them down and meditated on them.
Now, the lives of millions were not at stake in my successfully getting it up, but in my teenage assessment of world problems, permanent impotence was only slightly behind mass genocide. I was desperate, would have tried anything, so when my mother asked me if I wanted to "become the erection," I agreed to do it.
She drove us to a park in the outskirts of Boulder, where we often started our walks up into the foothills.
"So, first we need the question," she said.
"Mom, I think we've covered that already."
"I know, but it helps if we can verbalize it as a question. How about this: How can I act like an erection in my everyday life? Go ahead, ask." I obeyed, mumbling the question.
"Now, listen to your unconscious and follow whatever cues it gives you."
I stared at the grass for a moment, then, as a joke, began gesturing my fingers wildly out of the top of my head.
"Good," she said. "Do that, but even more."
I flopped my arms to my sides and laughed uncomfortably. I fixed my hair. I'm still cool, I reminded myself. This was her idea, not mine.
"All right, let's try something else. Tell me, what would an erection say, if it could talk?"
"I don't know . . . this is hard," I said, smirking.
"Close your eyes and forget everything you are," she said. "Your name is not Micah, you are not a human being. You are an erection. What words come into your head?"
I did as she said, closed my eyes. A five-foot-eleven erection, I thought to myself, imagining a layer of thick, pink skin wrapped around my body like a sleeping bag, a giant bulging head.
"This is gross."
"It might help if you stood up straight," she suggested. "As straight as you possibly can."
I shook off the vision, pulled back my shoulders, and stiffened all the muscles in my body.
"You do not have a penis," my mother said - to my sudden alarm - "but you are the penis. Let its essence fill you."
I sucked in air, pulled up my chin, and began to see moving red shapes, like blood cells rushing around inside my eyes. It was probably the sun dappling through the branches, but I was willing to go with it. I imagined them filling me up from head to toe, transforming me into a giant hard-on.
"Yes!" my mother cheered, sensing it was starting to work.
"Um . . . move out of my way," I said, "I'm coming through."
"That's good," she encouraged. "Here, I'll be the obstacle. Try to get through me."
She squared her feet against the ground, braced her hands against my shoulders. I leaned into her, gently at first, but she was seriously resisting, so I pushed harder until we were butting up against each other like linebackers. "You're not going anywhere!" she shouted.
I launched forward, throwing my shoulder into her chest, but she held me at bay. My face grew crimson, veins popping out from my neck.
"What do you say?!" she shouted.
I took a deep breath.
"I go for what I want at all costs," I answered, my voice rising. "I have just one need, and my whole purpose is to fulfill it. You will not distract me!" I shoved my mother onto the grass, sprinting into the park, arms in the air. I was the victorious penis! What I'd won, I wasn't sure.
I shuffled back over to where she stood brushing grass off her shirt. "How is this going to make any difference?" I asked and looked between my legs.
"Try not to focus on that," she said, "and just be it." She stood up straight and furrowed her brow, mimicking my imitation of an erection. "Out of my way! I know what I want."
A couple weeks later, I had the opportunity to "be" the erection. Only, not exactly in the way I was expecting …
Excerpted from Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks Copyright © 2010 by Micah Toub. Published by Doubleday Canada, which is a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.