Graduate Education During a Pandemic
As many of you know, Pacifica Graduate Institute is a remarkably resilient institution blessed with a dedicated, flexible staff and faculty, as well as a deeply committed student body and a vibrant, scholarly Alumni Association. During times of crisis we have consistently been able to innovate and to learn together as our community has gone through adversity. The depth approach has served us well to help orient and guide us throughout our history.
Several years ago, our region suffered ravages of the Thomas Fire followed about a month later by the Montecito Debris Flow. While the Lambert campus was able to reopen several weeks after the debris flow, our Ladera campus remained closed for several months. Nevertheless, we all worked together and were able to deliver classes through on line formats and residentials at Lambert combined with meetings at local hotels. It was not an easy task to manage this, but the exemplary efforts of all involved not only made it possible to get through this period, but began a series of innovations focused on how to deliver a depth education on line.
Prior to this we already had two hybrid programs (the MA in Engaged Humanities and the Creative Life, and the Depth Psychology with a specialization in Jungian and Archetypal Studies), which have residential meeting just once a quarter. We had also begun to experiment with adding some on line components between campus visits in some other programs. Our primary accreditation agency, WSCUC (WASC) encouraged us to further develop our on line learning capacities. In the midst of these efforts the novel coronavirus broke into the world, quickly spreading into a pandemic. So we are now faced with new challenges, which bring their own opportunities.
All of higher education in the US is currently seeking to optimize on line learning, content and delivery. The President of WSCUC just gave a webinar encouraging all of the colleges, universities, and institutes in the region to develop flexible, innovative strategies to respond to the shelter-in-place orders, while also urging careful assessment of the efforts. We are all learning how to optimally learn in the face of ongoing uncertainty. At Pacifica we are also endeavoring to make our virtual learning experiences as wonderful as those traditional held on campus. Our future is likely to hold more on line offerings; we are assessing this at this very moment.
From a depth perspective this crisis has brought forward the need for a reflective, compassionate engagement with others. This includes empathic understanding of others thoughts, feelings, imaginings, including fears and anxieties. We need enhanced awareness to avoid stereotypes, to counter racism in its many forms, to seek equity for the whole person regardless of their ethnicity, gender/sexuality, beliefs, capacities but see through to the suffering of the soul. Depth learning requires transcendence of opposites: although we are all physical isolated, we can learn together. Alone-together we form a community of learners who can use the fullness of our beings to create new realities.
At an archetypal level, we are living in a time when the apocalyptic imagination has been activated by the pandemic (a term coined in English in the 17th century from the ancient Greek where pan meaning “all” plus “demos” meaning “the people”; but this also brings in the Greek God Pan whose very name is incorporated in our term “panic,” a universal emotion to which we are all vulnerable)—Pandemics can be terrifying. This is of course not the first or last time such activations of the collective unconscious have occurred, many generations have had their own version (like the nuclear apocalyptic imaginings of the 1950s through 70s), but the novel coronavirus is the one we are currently living in, it is our brush with the apocalyptic.
The emotions associated with apocalyptic fantasies are truly frightening and need to be taken quite seriously, but not literally. They are of mythic proportions and indicate times of great changes. Painful losses evolve into catastrophe narratives that are filled with numinosity, and often become the source of novel literature and art. C. G. Jung’s The Red Book is just such a narrative. It began with waking visions of Europe filling up with blood, and became the experiential basis for Jungian psychology. The dilemma that spurs Jung on is almost unbearable tension between prophecy (predicting WWI) and madness (a schizophrenic shattering of the mind). It finally ends with the realization of the notion of synchronicity, transcending the prophecy/madness conundrum, but also the opposition of mind vs matter. Profound insights can arise from working with these deep energies, though it requires much skill and courage.
Apocalyptic times are often nodal points, of changes in paradigms or worldviews. There is much danger of destruction and losing one’s way, but also they can become times of innovation and great creativity. One only has to think of the many things invented during the terrible years of WWII (a very short list would include: Radio navigation, Penicillin, synthetic rubber, Radar, rocket travel, jet engines, nuclear power, and computers) to realize how much a brush with the apocalypse can mobilize communities to invent. The archetype of death is strongly constellated, but then so is rebirth.
Suffering and loss can also bring forward increase compassion, especially compassionate care. Whether envisioned archetypally as a Bodhisattva or a Saint, the heroic energies can constellate the wounded healer. In the present moment, I can imagine Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, becoming the Wounded Healer with Ten Thousand Faces as I look to the many doctors, nurses, and first responders caring for patients with COVID-19, placing the care of others above their own personal well-being.
As we each go through our days, it is valuable to remain mindful of what is happening around us. In archetypal moments, synchronistic occurrence manifest, often more strongly than in ordinary times. These come with different valences, some positive, some negative, but they can guide us into the new world that is emerging as we pass through this time of shadow and loss. When Pandora released illnesses from her “jar” what remained inside was hope. Its light can help us endure and find our way forward.
Wishing you all a safe, reflective period of introversion during the isolation we are going through together.
President/CEO, Pacifica Graduate Institute