Exploring the Borderland and the Indigenous Starry Sky

In 2005, Jerome Bernstein first published Living in the Borderland: The Evolution of Consciousness and the Challenge of Healing Trauma, a work that is deeply informed by more than three decades of his relationships with the Navajo and Hopi peoples of New Mexico and by a number of clients seen in his private practice in Santa Fe. While the entire work comprises the fullest statement of his concept of 'Borderland', the following exerpt gives a compact account of the concept and how he came to it:

I have asserted that, since the 1960's, there has been a compensatory evolutionary shift in the collective unconscious in an attempt to rein in this runaway western ego. A hallmark of that evolutionary shift is a reconnecting of the western ego with nature. Through that process the western psyche is being forced to integrate the transpersonal and transrational dimensions of his life [**see Bernstein's defining remarks below] from which I propose it began to split some 3,000 years ago. However, this reconnection with nature is not a regression to previous psychic states, such as animism or a Rousseau-like idealized romanticization of nature. The integration of these dimensions--the transpersonal and the transrational--holds the potential to contain the western ego construct and its self-destructive intoxification with its own technological prowess.

One by-product of this evolutionary process appears to be the emergence of a new kind of consciousness, which I have called the Borderland. Some of the characteristics of what I have defined as the Borderland personality have been evident in individuals past and present. However, historically, its prevalence has been far from the mainstream consciousness of western culture. To review, I will remind the reader [that] the particular characteristics of this emergent Borderland consciousness are:

· A western ego at a high level of psychological development with an elastic ego boundary capable of being in connection with nature without falling into a state of participation mystique with nature.

· An ego capable of containing its own fragmentation complex.

· A resultant greater capacity for maintaining a simultaneous connection and dialogue with, and integration of, the rational and transrational dimensions of life.

· An evolutionary process that holds the prospect of a new kind of collective consciousness that will be familiar not only to the few, but that will be common to the many. Indeed, it may become the predominant form of consciousness emergent in the 21st century.

I have come to these realizations gradually over a period of 30 years of clinical practice as an analytical psychologist and in my contact with Navajo and Hopi cultures. As I worked with some patients, increasingly I began to see that their patterns of experience and psychological reality did not fit the clinical models in which I had been trained. Broadening my clinical awareness through reading and further training helped, but did not quite answer the questions: "What's this all about? What are they talking about?" For many years, largely unconsciously, I succumbed to the subtle pressure of squeezing my understanding of patient experience into the boundaries of familiar clinical models. Yet, all the while I was searching for new meaning.

For many years I followed this Ariadne thread, which suggested a consciousness different from the ones I lived and worked in, mostly through my experiences with Navajo medicine and healing ceremonials. I was able to relate western and Navajo concepts of healing. But I never succeeded in translating the one into the other clinically or in adapting the wisdom that I had garnered over 30 years in my contact with Navajo religion and culture in a manner that would satisfactorily inform my work. These concepts remained for me, both personally and professionally, two separate worlds, clinically, with no bridge between. Perhaps a telephone wire, but no bridge. At the same time, it became more and more obvious to me that there were dimensions of consciousness and transrational experiences in an increasing number of people that needed a new kind of clinical container, one that was more accepting and less judgmental of transrational experience.

During this process I never lost sight of the fact that I came to my training as an analytical psychologist through my encounter with Navajo healing and Hopi religion and culture, not the other way around. There was something in the deep wisdom of their "way" that inexplicably took root in my mind and soul, and that I intuitively knew was central in the journey towards my work. Ironically, I began that journey looking at western healing through the other end of the telescope--from a cultural and archetypal center that was not mine and could never be mine. That sense of dislocation and confusion led to a push/pull of what was figure and what was ground, and an endless series of questions and "yes, buts."

. . . . My intuition and my experience told me that a broader clinical model was needed to embrace what appears to be an increasing prevalence of what I called Borderland reality. For me, that broader clinical model would emerge out of a joining of western and Navajo healing approaches.

Jungian theory is clearly the essential connecting link between these two worlds. Jung's psychology remains the only one that unqualifiedly embraces transpersonal experience and spirituality as an integral part of normal human experience and an essential consideration in clinical practice. Jung's theories of the collective unconscious, his theory of archetypes, and his concept of the Self (as differentiated from the self in object relations theory and other Freudian and neo-Freudian modalities), are the indispensable building blocks of the clinical bridge that follows in the rest of the book. (pp. 121-123, Living in the Borderland)

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[** In the context that I am using the term [transpersonal], it alludes (but is not limited) to Jung's concepts of the "collective unconscious" and the "transcendent function,". . . . It also alludes to the religious function (as opposed to religion), in essence to life's transpersonal mysteries. . . .

I use the term "transrational" to refer to phenomena that are not provable in the rational, statistically provable, sense of the word--simply stated, observable phenomena and connections that do not "make sense" by generally accepted scientific and rational criteria [e.g., synchronistic phenomena].]

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Of somewhat related interest, consider taking part in the upcoming Zoom presentation hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Victoria:

Wilfred Buck (Indigenous star lore expert and former Science Facilitator, Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre) will give a talk entitled “One Sky, Many Astronomies” on Tuesday, March 2 at 3:00 pm via Zoom.

Registration is Free, But Please Register in Advance

For more information:

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