The transcendent function is the psyche’s way to bring the consciousness and the unconscious into a dialogue with each other towards individuation and psychological growth. Carl Jung believed that we each have this function, which yearns to evolve and transcend. This is an archetypal process, which mediates opposites and enables the transition from one attitude to another, a third way, by using symbols. The function has a healing effect by bridging the conscious and unconscious, facilitating movement beyond one-sidedness.

Since we are all unique in our life expressions, so is our process of growth and healing. We use different coping skills at various times to deal with adversity and suffering. Whether it is to process unresolved feelings, or get in touch with a disowned part of ourselves, we all need a bridge to tap into the dark corners of our shadows.  Art, music, yoga, poetry, dance, creative writing and tai-chi are some ways that quiet the mind and allow the connection to the hidden unconscious material.

Music has been used for numerous years as a powerful tool for the attunement of mind and body.  Our innate ability to use music and sound to facilitate deeper levels of self-awareness and transformation can be traced back to ancient times and across cultures. Music remains one of the most effective bridges between cultures that exist. But most importantly, music can unite us with other living beings and with the planet at large.

Music influences and attunes us with the mystery that resides within our depths. The healing power of music can awaken our patterns of wholeness and unleash our potential for becoming alive. Music, with its own special vocabulary of rhythm, melody, harmony, pitch, and tone, speaks directly to the unconscious. It makes the connection with deeply buried feelings and emotions by reaching the layers of the psyche, which are cut off from normal state of consciousness.

Introducing Dr. Allen Bishop
Dr. Allen Bishop is a psychoanalyst, professor, and musician living in Montecito, California. Having served as the Chair of the Clinical Psychology Department at Pacifica Graduate Institute, he received his analytic training at the Psychoanalytic Center of California in Los Angeles, is the former president of the Santa Barbara Music Club, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the American Beethoven Society. He continues to teach students, merging his life long interests of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, music and culture to inspire creativity and depth amongst us.

As one of his students, I’ve had the honor of learning from his vast sea of knowledge. Together with Brenda Murrow, my dear friend and co-author of this blog, we recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Bishop on his thoughts about music and psychology. We will dedicate the next few posts to music and its use as not only a personal therapeutic modality, but as a medium of healing in the collective.

During our interview, we asked about the deep psychic and archetypal experience that often seeks expression in music, in particularly the works of great composers such as Beethoven and Mozart. Dr. Bishop referred to musicians as “having the capacity to develop a form of expression that transcends time, and not just drop away in the dust bin of history”. Below is an excerpt from our interview, and his response to this question:

“Composers have the capacity to think beyond the personal to the transpersonal experience and elevate to what Jim Grothstein would call a ‘transcendent position’. That means in some ways they have moved beyond the normal ways people relate and interact to life and are connected not so much to individuals as the primary mode of experience, but connected to humanity. And thus, they feel they have a gift to be shared with all of humanity and not just a partner or a spouse. They have these changes in terms of their fundamental approach to object-relations. As opposed to the average person, who often gets caught by conformity to the external world and gets stifled.”
“There is, for the great artist and composer, an optimal amount of psychological pain and anguish that serves as the prima materia for a much more elaborate interiority and a set of lenses to look at deep psychological experience beyond just the personal. They can articulate emotional truth about the human condition which language is unable to convey.”

It seems to me as if suffering inner pain and anguish can serve as the vessel towards a realization that one may be the medium for the bigger picture; a deeper connection to humanity. The triumph over adversity, as in the case of Beethoven’s deafness, can “create a willingness to invent oneself as a unique individual and choose creativity over conventionality”. When asked about his personal choice in Beethoven, Dr. Bishop replied:

“Beethoven and his music has inspired a more complete elaboration of my capacities, emotional availability and abiding belief in the mystery of life. He helps all of us stay close to our interiority.”

Whether you’re drawn to classical, jazz, rock or hip-hip, music allows us to get in touch with a deeper part of our psyche and connect to the songwriter/composer’s dreams. This way, we can transcend to a higher level of consciousness and connection to humanity.

What is your musical experience? How do you surrender and allow yourself to be overcome with a deeper sense of awareness with the music in your life?

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7 Responses to “The Transcendent Function of Music”

  1. hazel colditz says:

    hmm, music has always been a benefit to my life, no matter the classification. there are times i can recall the exact moment when i hear a tune and retrace that moment in time, then and now. musicians are artists, perhaps that is why people in every part of the world connect thru this medium? it is in the artists energy or lyrics or the silence in between the beats that trigger something within us differently. as with all works of art it transcends time/place, it is relative to the person experiencing it. exactly what art is meant to do…stir the depths of our souls and move us in one direction or another. audio communication of the soul!
    thanks for sharing rashin…what moves you in music?

  2. rashin says:

    Hi Hazel, thanks for putting it so beautifully. I have to say that music for me often serves as a way to connect. Whether it's to a part of myself, the artist, or a memory…it definitely helps me transcend time and place. I think it's that deep level of connection that we often seek in life, which music and artistic expression tends to serve.

  3. Ron Barnett says:

    Helen Bonny has done interesting work in this area

  4. […] Institute, as well as a musician.  Further in the interview (from what is written in Rashin’s post last week), we discussed the archetypal qualities of music.  By using the term archetypal in this […]

  5. […] Institute, as well as a musician.  Further in the interview (from what is written in Rashin’s post last week), we discussed the archetypal qualities of music.  By using the term archetypal in this […]

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Xy08. Xy08 said: RT @AshevilleJungCt: Can music help to align the conscious and unconscious mind? […]

  7. Collier says:

    I will be always doing a search online for thoughts that can help me. Many thanks!

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