(Via Carl Jung et al.)


IF PSYCHO-ANALYSTS have been climbing, as some must have been, their answers to the question why people climb have been totally absent from the pages of the H.J. all these decades; perhaps of other mountain journals too. Some may say, thank heavens. Some may regard the answers of the unconscious in the class of Henry Ford I's view of history, as pure 'bunk'. Now Carl Jung has given us variation of Mallory's great, now worn English under-statement, 'Because it's there', which I interpret as 'because its within'. For those with objective curiosity touched with a sense of fun, here are some responses from Carl Jung et al in Man and his Symbols. If the H.J. has had a rightful place for the natural sciences on external phenomena, why not a scientific insight Into the internal phenomena of climbers, the very roots of their varied and complex motivations? After all, Queen Victoria was reported to have once banned mountaineering as a mad sport in its early days. That alone may make it qualify for psycho-analysis on that borderland, where the majority of people think it is insane to tread; but where a special minority find it peculiarly sane. As sane as a third Scotch after a 'dull day'.

Mountaineering has had its varieties of men, as any other sport, now also a profession. Jung gave to psycho-analysis the 'extorverts', the General Bruces, the Pasang Dawa Lamas, the George Lowes, the Jack Gibsons, the Chris Boningtons of the mountain world. He also gave us the 'introverts', the Mallorys, the Tilmans, the Gurdial Singhs, the Doug Scotts, and the prize one, Reinhold Messner. (I am not sure where I would put Hillary, Tcnzing and many others.). With his extreme loneliness, with his consuming ambition, a potent cocktail stimulating his matchless climbing feats; what would Carl Jung have given for Messner to have walked through his iloor. And what a fascinating and revealing study that would have made. But let us proceed to the accounts of the few nameless climbers who did, and what their dreams and the interpretations showed. For it is nut what the conscious mind does, but the incoherent, tantalising messages of the unconscious which are relevant for the interpretation of the individual pysche. Symbols are to dreams what fruits are to trees. What anatomy is to the body, the study of the psyche is to the mind; both need charting.

So first let us begin with a symbol, not unfamiliar to mountaineers in dreams, being confined in a rock or ice cave. According to the Jungian school, such a dream is a symbol of the womb of Mother Earth, appearing as mysterious caverns in which transformations or 'rebirth' can come about. In the ,days before rubber/foam mattresses, the writer once slept on only a ground sheet of a tent on the upper slopes of Gepang Goh in Lahul; and dreamt he had been locked in ice, struggling desperately to free himself. He woke to find his back and body extremely cold. A few juniper branches under the groundsheet helped partially to provide some insulation. The unconscious seemed to register the plight of the physical body and the conscious mind and signalled the awakening. Jung recalls.

I remember the case of a man who was inextricably involved in a number of shady affairs. He developed an almost morbid passion for dangerous mountain climbing, as a sort of compensation. He was seeking 'to get above himself. In a dream one night, he saw himself stepping off the summit of a high mountain into empty space. When he told me his dream, I instantly saw his danger and tried to emphasize the warning and persuade him to restrain himself. I even told him that the dream foreshowed his death in a mountain accident. It was in vain. Six months later he 'stepped off into space'. A mountain guide watched him and a friend letting themselves down on a rope in a difficult place. The friend had found a temporary foothold on a ledge, and the dreamer was following him down. Suddenly, he let go of the rope according to the guide, as if he was jumping into the air. He fell upon his friend, and both went down and were killed.

It was a case of two lives lost for not heeding Jung's interpretation of a dream of one of them. And a caution to those of us who wish to 'get above ourselves', for whatever reasons. The more desperate the urge, perhaps the more dangerous the possible consequences.

The next case is related by Joseph Henderson. It is a case of a common example of a young man seeking through mountaineering to put himself through a trial of strength, 'to achieve hero-consciousness in a heroic stage of adolescent development'. Yet combined with a realisation to submit himself to a power greater than himself, a lesson in humility and 'a mark of a passage from youth to maturity'. Henderson relates

A young man of 25 dreamed of climbing a mountain on top of which there was a kind of altar. Near the altar he sees a sarcophagus with a statue of himself upon it. Then a veiled priest approaches carrying a staff on which there glows a living sun-disk. (Discussing the dream later, the young man said that climbing a mountain reminded him of the effort he was making in his analysis to achieve self-mastery.) To his surprise, he finds himself, as it were dead, and instead of a sense of achievement he feels deprivation and fear. Then comes a feeling of strength and rejuvenation as he is bathed in the warm rays of this sun-disk.

This dream shows quite succintly the distinction we must make between initiation and the hero myth. The act of climbing the mountain seems to suggest a trial of strength. It is the will to achieve ego-consciousness in the heroic phase of adolescent development. The patient had evidently thought that his approach to therapy would be like his approach to other tests of manhood, which he had approached in the competitive manner characteristic of young men in our society. But the scene by the altar corrected this mistaken assumption, showing him that his task is rather to submit to a power greater than himself. He must see himself as if he were dead and entombed in a symbolic form (the sarcophagus), that recalls the archetype mother as the original container of all life. Only by such an act of submission can he experience rebirth. An invigorating ritual brings him to life again as the symbolic son of a Sun Father.

Here again we might confuse this with a hero cycle — that of the Twins, the 'children of the Sun'. But in this case, we have no indication that the initiate will over-reach himself. Instead, he has learned a lesson in humility by experiencing a rite of death and rebirth that marks his passage from youth to maturity.

According to his chronological age, he should already have made this transition, but a prolonged period of arrested development has held him back. This delay had plunged him into a neurosis for which he had come for treatment, and the dream offers him the same wise counsel that he could have been given by any good tribal medicine man — that he should give up scaling mountains to prove his strength and submit to the meaningful ritual of an initiatory change, that could fit him for the new moral responsibilities of method.

This is not to encourage members to resign from the Club and go to a medicine man!

Jolande Jocabi records a more detailed case of a man (Henry) whose psyche in its individuation phase is in need of a 'voyage of discovery to unknown lands'; again not an unfamiliar phenomenon among climbers. The first part of his life-journey is represented as climbing a mountain, which, according to the author, 'offers ascent from the unconscious to an elevated point of view of the ego, i.e. to an increased consciousness'. Many of us share that too.

Such voyages and adventures take place in John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress and in Dante's Divina Comoedia. Dante's traveller, searching for n way, comes to a mountain that he decides to climb. His journey bears n marked resemblance to Henry's. Because of three strange animals, Dante's Irrtveller is forced to descend into a valley, and even into hell. Later he ascends again to purgatory and finally reaches paradise. 'From this parallel one could deduce that there might be a similar period of disorientation nnd lonely seeking in store for Henry.'

After this interlude in the dream, Henry suddenly becomes aware that It is noon and he must go on. So he starts for the pass. A mountain pass is a well-known symbol for a 'situation of transition' that leads from an old attitude of mind to a new one. Henry must go alone; it is essential for his ego to surmount the test unaided. Thus he leaves his kit behind — an action that signifies that his mental equipment has become a burden, or that he must change his normal way of going about things.

But he does not reach the pass. He loses his bearings and finds himself back in the valley. This failure shows that while Henry's ego decides on activity, his other psychic entities (represented by the other members of the party) remain in the old state of passivity and refuse to accompany the ego. (When the dreamer himself appears in the dream, he usually represents only his conscious ego; the other figures stand for his more or less unknown, unconscious qualities.)

Henry is in a situation where he is helpless, yet ashamed to admit it. At this moment he meets an old woman who indicates the right way to him. He can do nothing but accept her advice. The helpful 'old woman' is a well known symbolist myth and fairy tale for the wisdom of the eternal female nature. The rationalist Henry hesitates to accept her help because such acceptance requires a sacrificiun intellects — a sacrific, or discharging, of a rational way of thought. (This demand will often be made of Henry in later dreams.) Such a sacrifice is unavoidable; it applies to his relationship with the analysis as well as with everyday life.

If such a technically-minded young man as Henry is conscious to choose the way of psychic development, he must be prepared for a reversal of his old attitudes. Therefore, on the advice of the woman, he must start his climb from a different spot. Only then will it be possible for him to judge at- what level he must deviate to reach the group — the other qualities of his psyche — that he has left behind.

Then comes the rain, a cloud burst that relaxes tension and makes the earth fertile. In this way rain can be said to represent a solution in the literal sense of the word.

'Coming down, Henry again meets the collective values symbolized by the rucksack and motorcycle. He has passed through a phase in which he has strengthened his ego-consciousness by proving he can hold his own, and he has a renewed need for social contact. However, he accepts the suggestion of his friends that he should wait and fetch his things the next morning. This he submits for the second time to advice that comes from elewhere; the first time, to the advice of the old woman, to a subjective power, an archetypal figure; the second time, to a collective pattern. With this step Henry has passed a milestone on the road to maturity.'

One can only hope that all this will not be regarded as a product of one of those 'bloated corpses in blue suits of the sterile intellectual world'! All sciences have come some way since Mallory, an intellectual and a don, was taunted by his Everest companions that if he had been in the USSR then, he would have been 'liquidated'.

And since then climbing, having become a harsh, competitive even chauvinistic sport, perhaps needs a touch of sane healing. If there is a case for mountain rescue after the event, surely there may be a case for a spot of preventive psycho-analysis before the event in some cases. I am not suggesting anything as forbidding as a psycho-analyst at base-camp! May be a poet is a better companion there, till one reads of a great poet like T. S. Eliot: 'the art of poetry is the uncovering of a nakedness In the biblical sense'.

But what the hell. Who has the time or the inclination to read books on mountains these days ? The hardware and the hard-headedness are loo much for that. Has dreaming gone too?


An attempt to analyse motives for climbing mountains.


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