The Mystery Duck: A Jungian Look at Circumambulating a Problem

Mystery Duck

There are many ways to solve the pressing problems that occur in everyday life. I received this photograph with the title “Mystery Duck” from a good friend. His brother, a waterfowl photographer, had taken the photograph. They wanted my opinion concerning the identification of the duck in the center of the photo, the “mystery duck.” My opinion would be the “tie-breaker,” so to speak.

This photograph and identification problem, helped to illicit questions in my mind about problem-solving in general. First of all, the obvious solution to a problem is often not the correct one. Let’s look at this photograph. To someone not very familiar with bird or duck identification, a quick assumption might be that the mystery duck is the opposite-sex version of the second duck, a female Ruddy duck, which is the duck in the lower right corner of the photograph. But upon more careful observation while looking at the details in the markings of both ducks, we know that this is not the case.

Second, a solution to the identification of the mystery duck makes it clear how even the obvious can require a detailed examination. Let me explain. Between the three of us (my friend who sent the photo, his brother who took the photo, and myself) we have logged thousands of hours over the course of our lives observing birds, specifically waterfowl. Yet, the identification of this particular duck was nonetheless quite challenging.

This brings me to the idea of “circumambulation.” Briefly, circumambulation means looking at or moving around something, often a sacred object, from many different angles. Or put another way, circling a problem, or an image, from different ways. By circling a problem you filter it, you distill it, you get to the essence of the problem. Carl Jung introduced this notion into his psychology. From a Jungian point of view and specific to this blog post, circumambulation refers to the idea of approaching a problem from many different angles.

A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. But in psychotherapy, it is not typically the best way to deal with life problems. Treating the problem of depression in the process of Jungian psychotherapy would be an example of this. Certainly in psychotherapy, we want to minimize suffering, but doing so by the “straight line method” usually does not work. We need to examine the depression from many different angles. The psychotherapist and client can look at it together, and circle it, filter it, and distill it, getting to the essence of the depression, the problem.

In the case of the mystery duck, I am bridging this idea of circumambulation into helping me solve an everyday life problem. The deep process of individuation inherent in Jungian psychotherapy can be an emotional and felt experience helping to facilitate significant changes and growth for the individual. But the methods and “nuts and bolts” also inherent in Jungian psychology can also help us to work with and “solve” everyday life problems. This fact sometimes gets lost in the writings and focus of Jungian psychology and the Jungian worldview. Jungian psychology can indeed, also be quite practical.

The depth focus of psychotherapy inherent in Jungian therapy is implied and essential for helping clients learn about their own central images and “circumambulating” the Self. This work can have a profound impact on the individual in helping him or her in learning to trust and follow his or her greater Self.

But in addition, the work inherent in Jungian psychotherapy can assist an individual in learning about other ways to solve everyday life problems. I sometimes hear from clients in psychotherapy that they are surprised and delighted to learn about other, sometimes non-rational and intuitive ways to solve their life problems.

Jung once said that some of the bigger life problems are never really solved, but are instead out-grown. This is just one example of an approach to problem-solving that can be examined more deeply in the process of Jungian psychotherapy.

Let’s get back to the “mystery duck.” This photographic image and waterfowl identification “assignment” from my friends, made me aware again about how important it is to examine a problem from many different angles; to “circumambulate” it. It also reminded me of the “practical Jung” and the tools inherent in Jungian psychology to assist us with everyday life. For more on this idea, see the excellent book by psychiatrist and analyst Harry Wilmer (1987), Practical Jung: Nuts and Bolts of Jungian Psychotherapy.

In case you are wondering about the true identity of the “mystery duck,” we agreed that it is likely a female Lesser Scaup. If any birder reading this begs to differ, we would appreciate any feedback that we can get about this fun, everyday life problem. For the reader with an interest in bringing Jungian psychology into his or her everyday life, consider the idea of circumambulating your life problems, and to being open to Jung’s notion of out-growing the bigger problems in your life instead of aggressively trying to “solve” them. Sometimes in our lives the problem is in fact the solution.

 

© 2012, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

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