The mudang are the fortune tellers, the shamanistic diagnosticians, healers and prognosticators of Korea. They are usually women, powerful, wealthy, feared, and living in taboo fringes of society. Many, many people visit the mudang, but secretly. Everyone does it now and then at major life crossroads, but no one really admits to it.

A few mudang inherit their position. But others are first brought to the mudang to be cured from a state of nervous collapse, confusion, soul-sickness, or dysfunction. The treatment, the cure for what ails them is to undergo initiation, and to become a mudang themselves.

(Drawn from an amazing, terrifying documentary film I saw many years ago: Mudang: The Reconciliation Between the Living and the Dead)

The archetype of the Wounded Healer, reminds us that there is a scent, a whiff of shamanistic tradition in psychotherapeutic treatment and practice as well.

Many clients come for quick consultations 5 to 10 sessions to negotiate a milestone or a crisis. Others come regularly for a year or two. Some stay longer than they expected, 5, 7 years speed by before they realize (although I have never asked anyone to to stay and will gladly help anyone leave who wants to go). Some of us climb the mountain, seeking relief for our most obvious symptoms and never leave.

The cure, it turns out, was to stay.

I’ve been in therapy since I was 19 perhaps. I am 48 now, with plenty of work still ahead.

Perhaps because I have many patients who are therapists themselves, about half of my caseload consists of people I have seen for 10, 12 years or more. I still see several of the first clients I ever met in my first months as a private practitioner. Still others see me as part of a chain of therapists who have partnered with them sequentially through their entire adult lives.

My closest colleagues and peers have engaged in similar process investing as much time and commitment. They have worked, and will work, as hard and long I have, through out their lives.

That’s long term.
Entire lives devoted to depth work.

There are unique and chronically resurfacing challenges and dissappointments that emerge when you take up residence on the mountain.

Several juicy well-articulated tantrums over the years, pitched by my own patients, by close friends (and me too!) occasionally prod me to organize my own answer to the immortal question:

Sixteen years and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt?

You spend years and years, and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on your personal and training analysis, graduate school, post-grad training, professional development, books, supervision in all its various forms – perhaps some couples therapy and group therapy as well to round it out.

You assume most of the time, that there are things about yourself that you do not and cannot know – that you have an UN-conscious. Not a just a “pre-” or a “sub”-conscious, an unknowable, mysterious Core, filled with conditioning memories, preverbal, nonverbal and unnoticed perceptions and powerfully symbolic images. You try to constantly bear in mind that this deeper layer of yourself, is functioning with some real autonomy, under and outside of your awareness. You accept that, no matter how vigilant you are, this unconscious self will drive at least some of your actions, conscript your intentions, cause you to rationalize, minimize and blind you to over, under, mis-placed and missed reactions to events going on around you in the present.

You assume you have a shadow that you cannot see easily or completely on your own that you wish to integrate as much of as possible. What you cannot integrate, you hope, at least, to be able to take some responsibility for when someone else points it out to you. You deeply consider, when those you love and those you work with tell you some crappy, painful, or embarrassing things about yourself, whether it might just be true, a manifestation of something you might not know about yourself yet. Perhaps you will ultimately decide that it is only partially true, understandable but unfair, or a distortion caused by their history, their wounds, their unconscious. But, you try to do this in a way that preserves compassion toward yourself, and the distress you may have activated in the other.

You lay in wait, hoping to catch yourself in the act of repeating your own archaic and archetypal patterns and do something new, something inspired, rather than just replicate a gesture pulled out of your character flaws, your history, or the brittle aspects of your personality.

You are suspicious of your own bullshit. You try not to buy into it or believe it, protect it or ride its self-righteous momentum.

You also hope, that out of your daily awareness exists a larger Self, a dreaming Psyche, an intuitive Seed perhaps even a Soul of some sort. You pay attention to and write down your dreams, notice meaninful coincidences, stories and myths and symbols that speak to you – searching for clues and guidance to deepen your connections to others, to know yourself better. Sometimes its gobbledygook. Sometimes its pay-dirt.

You want to face and effectively confront what is worst in yourself and those around you, and to acknowledge what is best and most beautiful as well. To have compassion for what is most vulnerable, to appreciate strengths, gifts, and talents – and you also try to remember, that these contradictions are facets the self-same thing.

You work hard, for years and years, to grieve your losses, to sort through your inheritance, to acknowledge the past, to notice when you are possessed by impulse, raw instinct, old wounds, or archetypal energies.

You try to hold your perceptions of others lightly, to discover what is accurate about who they are, and what are your own projected hopes, and fears about who they are.

You learn to fight fairly, to work through conflict effectively, to communicate in ways that attempt to lower your own and others defenses, to help each other feel heard and mirrored.

You attempt to own your healthy aggression and use it honestly, and with precision in service of balance and respect and relatedness. When unacknowledged hostility or anger spills out passively, inappropriately, indirectly you take responsibility, make reparation, and try think about what its original source might be.

And you don’t just do this at work.

And you fail at all of these things all the time. And you accept your failures, and you breath clean sweet relief when you have momentarily found the flow.

Here is the tricky part:

No one is required to do any of this. Not even you.

And most people don’t think its at all necessary, and perhaps they are right.

A particular form of unfairness that taunts the psychological initiate involves run-ins with people mindlessly and guiltlessly enjoying bad traits one desperately is trying to overcome. It is absolutely galling to be confronted with someone freely displaying behavior one is working so hard to subdue and transcend….

Why should he grow if people around him stayed the same or got worse? Why should he become less destructive if he had to deal with those who indulged their destructiveness? ~ Michael Eigen, Toxic Nourishment

Many people never feel the need to visit the mountain in the first place.

And of those who do visit, most come once or twice, returning home with some reassurance or relief and forget about the episode entirely.

The majority of people in your family, your circle, and your neighborhoods and communities may explicitly doubt that this level of hyper-consciousness, self-awareness, reflection, impulse-control, self-examination, perception, compassion, discernment, empathy and identification with others is useful, meaningful, or or even valuable. Many think that what you have spent your lifetime doing is foolish, ridiculous, mumbo-jumbo.

Try sharing some of your real thoughts and perceptions about the latent content at a school parents committee or a coop board meeting and see how well that goes over if you doubt me.

A lifetime ago you traveled to the mountain to seek healing for some utterly transforming loss, trauma, chaos, confusion, or pain that burdened you and set you apart, publicly or privately , from the “normal” others who were not (yet) traumatized, and those who passively succumbed to the trauma or who found it easer to fall in with their aggressors and perpetrate it.

So in the long long run?

Here is what it will never do:
Make you normal. Make life easier.
Make you less lonely (or more precisely, less alone).

Here is what it gets you:
Pain transformed into service.
Meaning and purpose extracted from senselessness.
An opportunity to be creative in the face of destruction.
A chance to be well-used.

That’s all there is to show for it.
Nothing more, nothing less.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford