Writing Toward Wholeness: Lessons Inspired by C.G. Jung
by Susan M. Tiberghien
Chiron Publications, Asheville, North Carolina, 2018
ISBN: 978 1 63051 454 9
Reviewed by Carmen Bugan
Susan Tiberghien is an American writer who has made Europe her home for the past 60 years. She has written five memoirs in which she teaches the craft of writing in large part through Jungian philosophy: all of her books have received high praise, especially her signature memoir, Looking for Gold: A Year in Jungian Analysis. Her passion for creating communities of writers has led her to found the Geneva Writers’ Group in 1993, a gathering of nearly 250 international poets, novelists, journalists, biographers and memoirists, which has become a literary hub, and where she regularly teaches workshops. A sought-after speaker and instructor, Tiberghien lectures and teaches widely in Europe and the United States at C.G. Jung Institutes, the International Women’s Writing Guild, and at writers’ centers and conferences.
Tiberghien’s writing flourishes at the intersection of spirituality, arts, psychology, social justice, and common sense earned by raising a large family while living in several countries. Writing Toward Wholeness, her most recent writing memoir, showcases her experience teaching, writing, and researching the works of Carl Jung for the past 30 years, setting her as one of the prominent Jung scholars and an inspiring teacher. This is a book that enriches both the new and the experienced writer, for it opens original ways of reading Jung’s works and benefiting from them creatively. Writers who are not readers of Jung but who are looking for both practical and inspiring exercises, will find in these pages a treasure of writing prompts, exercises, and a stimulating bibliography that allow them to explore the craft of writing through the works of various spiritual figures and notable writers: from Gilgamesh to St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine and Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Merton, all the way to contemporary writers such as Joseph Brodsky and Orhan Pamuk. The series of lessons–on how to write about the soul, how to use Eastern philosophy to talk about the concept of clarity in writing, how to use the metaphor of alchemy in thinking about the writing process—offers a strong framework that is useful to the teachers of creative writing as well, making it a great manual on writing as a holistic activity.
The unifying principle of Writing Toward Wholeness is the exploration of wholeness: first by looking at how others understood it through the ages, and then guiding the writer through a series of examples and writing prompts that turn the questioning to the self. For example, she asks: “What does wholeness mean to you? What image of wholeness comes to you? A hazelnut? An oak tree? A child’s face? Describe it in a few lines.” (p. 192) As with the writing exercises which she has crafted in each of the eight chapters, this is both simple and profound. There is elegance in the language by which we are invited to think: a child’s face, a hazelnut, all images that suggest calmness, gentleness, peace. She creates a safe world of imagination. Her writing prompts are not simply directions: they are openings one can trust, and this is rare to find even in experienced teachers.
Tiberghien’s ability to pose the big questions of the soul, to encourage us to listen to our inner selves, to search for our writing voice in our dreams, her belief that we can write ourselves from darkness into the light, from fog into clarity, is what makes this book so resourceful. “When the soul wishes to experience something”, she says quoting Master Eckhart, “she throws out an image of the experience before her and enters into her own image” p.23; in other words, in the act of writing, one enters the experience he or she imagines, approaching thus wholeness. Every person reading the book will take something slightly different from it, whether from a practical or a spiritual point of view, and I suspect that everyone exploring the lessons will experience the sense of joy and the rewards of language.