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A Student's Reflections of Pacifica Graduate Institute

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I’s time for my bookshelf shuffle, a cozy ritual that creates closure around the previous term and generates good energy for what’s to come. The practice is simple enough: I put the texts for the upcoming quarter within easy reach, and bump the outgoing references to a lower shelf. A sort of mental and material housekeeping, with the added benefit that it gives me a certain sense of progress. Papers written, books read, another quarter sewn up.

As I’m sorting through my books, I thought I’d share another excellent text, Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths. What’s interesting about Graves’ Myths, and what distinguishes it from books like Hamilton’s Mythology, is that Graves offers a sort of textual ‘hyperlinking’ that helps readers experience Greek myth as an interwoven body of narratives and essences. Nothing stands alone; the mythic world is an unbroken, living dream. For folks interested in the idea that “Myth is a psychology of antiquity,”1 that sense of interconnection is helpful, eye-opening, and not infrequently tinged with the numinous.

1 Quotation from James Hillman’s The Dream and the Underworld, p. 23, also well worth a read.



As I’m wrapping up my third term at Pacifica, I’m coming to the conclusion that grad school is something like a torrential rain. There is just so much incoming information — constant new readings, dozens of orientations and theories — and it’s all storming in at once. After nine months, I’m completely and gloriously soaked, but I haven’t had a chance to deeply consider any collection of raindrops in particular. I suspect that this will be the work of my PhD years — to spend time with the outpourings that have attracted me most. To contend with a certain set of ideas and explore it to its (and my) utmost, letting it filter down into the soil of soul, into the very underworld of its possibilities.



I’ve wrapped up my second quarter and am officially ¼ of the way to my masters degree! Things are moving more quickly than I expected and are, on the whole, more rewarding than I hoped. In honor of the end of winter term, I thought I’d offer one of life’s great, geeky gifts. That’s right: it’s suggested reading! Today's book of choice comes from the Dreamwork course I just wrapped up: Leslie Ellis’s A Clinician’s Guide to Dream Therapy. You don’t have to be a professional to enjoy this great overview of dream psychology, and Ellis offers plenty of techniques to apply in your own dreamwork. Enjoy!



Like many colleges and universities, Pacifica utilizes the TurnItIn plagiarism checker. But if the goal is to protect the intellectual property of authors and to prevent academic grift, TurnItIn seems like a fail. Learn more about the issues here and here.



Decent first term grades combined with a smooth transition into second quarter suggests that my monastic study rhythms are working out fine. Listening to lectures on Mondays, reading and note-taking on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, days and times allotted for research and for writing, so my papers don’t sneak up on me at the end of term, so it goes. True, some weeks are more chockablock than others, but overall my pace keeps things gentle. I’m reminded of Annie Dillard’s observation, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So far, this scholarly cloistering isn’t a bad way to spend ones days, one’s life.



New developments here at A Matter of Degree! Two papers from my first quarter at Pacifica are now available. Fans of the Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell miniseries, as well as devotees of sci-fi novelist Connie Willis, may be interested to peer into these fictional worlds through a depth-psychological lens.



All that’s left of my first quarter at Pacifica is to turn in a couple of research papers. As things wrap up, it seems fitting to reflect on the highlights of grad school, so far.

First, the worst: An almost total loss of leisure reading. After I’ve done the day’s scholastic reading — not to mention the reading that results from the day’s reading (and if that makes sense to you, you may already be a grad student) — my capacity for absorbing words from a page is virtually nil. I manage a chapter or two of fiction at bedtime, but that’s about it.

The absolute best: Becoming a subject matter monk. Like a contemporary Julian of Norwich, I work in my doorless little cell thinking only of archetypes and complexes and the ethical obligations of shadow work. Is there anything better than indulging one's inner geek?

Also cool: Having an academic affiliation. This is actually niftier than I thought it would be. My research inquiries are received more seriously now that I have the semi-official credentials of graduate student.

Biggest surprise: How quickly my cohort would become an important part of my life. After only a few months, I'm grateful for this sincere, supportive crew.

So, there you have it. The beguine is begun. And now, back to those papers. Stay tuned if you’re interested. There's a fair chance I’ll post them to this site.



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Red Book by Carl Jung I feel like my secret decoder ring has arrived! I’m officially in the club. The tiny but mighty Midtown Reader book delivery car has arrived with my very own copy of The Red Book, Carl Jung’s account of his adventures in active imagination from 1913-1916. The book, only published in 2009, is a cornerstone in understanding Jung — his person and his work. Now, if only I could find time to read it. Papers and forum posts to write, assigned reading, additional suggested reading, cohort gatherings ...



Each quarter, we Pacifica students gather with our profs for a four-day residential session. Thanks to COVID, my cohort's first “residential” was video-conferenced, but I don't feel it was any less of an initiation. An intensive, experiential look at the course material, our four days gave us a chance to work through some of the complex questions around shadow, Self, and the face of depth psychology across time (though nobody called it that until around 1914). The long weekend was fascinating, exhausting, definitely deepened our connections as a cohort. By the time the next residential rolls around, I think I'll have just about recovered from this one.



Scrivener’s bells and whistles were a little overwhelming for fiction writing, but, whew! This software is a dream machine for grad school. I keep a Scrivener file for each of my courses, which acts as a sort of ‘nest’ of folders for each week of the term. Within those folders are that week’s notes, assignments, questions for my profs, you name it. Everything is accessible from one screen and organized — by me — in a way that suits my mental style. And the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? When I'm writing my final papers in six weeks — or preparing for my comprehensive exams in two years — everything will be clear and accessible: tagged, organized and searchable. Word to my fellow research-heads: Scrivener plays nice with Zotero and exports easily into <.docx>, <.rtf>, and more.

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Tomorrow is my first official day of classes. It’s also the first day of Navratri, Hinduism’s nine-night celebration of the goddess Durga. Seeing how I’m entering into a program of archetypal studies, it seems fitting to share a bit of the Durga mythology.

Once upon a legendary time, a demon went on a rampage: mass violence, disaster, despair. Normally, the gods could have made quick work of a monster like this, but — thanks to a divine boon and a fatal underestimation of girlpower — the baddy in question could only be defeated by a woman. The gods combined their powers, and there appeared the goddess Durga. Often depicted with ten arms and riding a lion (though, according to Wikipedia, she can have as many as eighteen upper limbs), Durga slew the demon and saved the worlds.

Durga is one of the fierce forms of Parvati, the consort of Shiva, an aspect of the Great Mother archetype. As mamas go, however, she’s fairly formidable, probably more likely to teach her younglings to wield a talwar than to skip rope. Not the Shakti one would customarily find in an educational setting — that would be Saraswati — I imagine an academic Durga as one who encourages us to take a sword to our own demons of ignorance, and to pursue our vocation with amiable ferocity.

(If you’re interested to know more about Durga and the other forms of Shakti, check out David Frawley’s classic book, Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses.)



ˈsiləbəs (noun)
a happy justification for expanding one’s library.

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Ithought I was a library power user until I met today with Richard Buchen, Pacifica Reference Librarian and Jedi Master of Research Powers. Richard was kind enough to give me a screen-share overview of the library’s resources, ranging from a Padawan-level library catalog introduction to the Jedi Knight-level secrets of the database search string. In short, I have seen the arcane capabilities of Ebsco and Google Scholar, my friends, and they are intriguing.



I’ve correctly answered the sphinx’s riddle. The threshold guardians are waving me through. That’s right — I’ve been accepted to Pacifica! Start counting down. I’ve got 85 days until classes begin.

I’ll be studying Depth Psychology, making the deep dive on Jungian Studies and Analytical Psychology. That means I’ll be taking courses with titles like The Poetic Basis of Mind and Archetypes: Universal Patterns of the Psyche. I'm thrilled to the gills, and can't wait to finally order my very own copy of The Red Book, something I've been itching to do for some time now.

The costs, of course, are daunting. Grad school isn’t cheap and the time investment is substantial. Especially given that I’m returning to school after many moons, I can’t help hearing the clock ticking just behind my shoulder. That said, I'm more excited than anxious, feeling the tug of the daimon. I've already started a list of dissertation topic ideas. And there’s a non-zero chance that, by the end of the day, I’ll have contacted the campus bookstore to get myself a Pacifica t-shirt.

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