Between Earth and Sky: our dreams at the time of the Corona Virus

The last Tuesday 17th of March we had in Milan an experience of Social Dreaming Matrix online.

I believe that sharing dreams in this difficult times can be a powerful source of social understanding for what is happening to us in a moment when our daily life is under a radical change; but the Social Dreaming Matrix is also an occasion to share our most inner emotions, thoughts, feelings, intuitions, and to realize that what is happening to each one of us is part of a common whole, that we are not alone with our fears. Below some first results I would like to share.

The powerful god Apollo, tells the myth, fell in love with the young and beautiful Coronis and, having to go away for a while, before his departure asked his faithful servant the raven to watch over the maiden. The raven was at that time a bird with a beautiful snow-white plumage, and faithfully obeyed his master. When Coronis betrayed Apollo with the young Ischi then, the raven immediately flew to warn the god about her betrayal. Apollo, seized by anger, killed Coronis stabbing her with an arrow.

Before dying however Coronis revealed Apollo she was pregnant with his son and, because of his anger, he would have died with her. Repentant for his gestures, Apollo tried to bring Coronis back to life without success and, before posing her on the pyre, pulled the baby out of his belly and gave him to the centaur Chiron. The child was named Aesculapius, inherited his father’s curative gifts and became later the god of Medicine.

Apollo’s anger however did not spare the raven, guilty of being the cause of Coronis’ death, and the god changed the color of its plumage from white to black. “Too much talkative was the raven, which is why he suddenly saw his feathers blacken”, Ovidio said.

This ancient myth therefore explains the black origin of the raven’s plumage, and how and why the bird is commonly regarded as the harbinger of doom. Plus, the myth highlights the deep bond that exists between the god of Medicine Aesculapius, the son of Apollo, and the raven, which in the popular tradition is also symbol of divination, black magic and healing. A proof of that are the raven’s beak shaped masks the doctors used to wear during the black Plague of the 16 century in order to avoid contagious when visiting the sicks. The similarity with the image of the garments the medical and paramedical staff wears today when assisting people infected by the Coronavirus is an astonishing evidence we all know quite well this days.

Birds have always been a powerful symbol of the mysterious forces of the collective unconscious. Their capacity to connect earth and sky, to switch from one element to the other, doesn’t seem to bound them to the same natural laws of the humans. Birds’ flight always inspired human creativity and divination arts, giving wings to the human imagination, feeding the transcendent function, connecting the conscious reality with the realm of the spirit.

The very same idea of the transcendent is populated of winged figures: the white dove of the Holy Spirit; the Apollo’s black raven symbol of divination; angels, half birds and half humans; the god Hermes, the winged spirit of alchemy, symbol of transformation; the ancient shamans riding the world with their magic wings.

From the deepens of the psyche to the heights of the spirit you may pass with a wing stroke; but this transition is not painless and if you wish to start this trip you should be prepared to meet the “darkness of the soul”.

Big pitch-black ravens, enormous parrots with a yellow beak that cannot fly, solar gods like Horus, the god of the ancient Egypt, were some of the powerful images that appeared in our dreams during the first experiment of the online Social Dreaming Matrix we had some days ago, on Tuesday 17th of March.

We already explained in some previous posts  what is Social Dreaming and how the Matrix can be a safe container for the sharing of dreams in a group, where they are not worked out from the individual point of view of the dreamer but, once given to the group, through free associations and amplifications they can be the source of new common meanings about the reality shared by the participants.

The purpose of a Social Dreaming Matrix is therefore to explore hidden meanings, giving evidence to the countless of correspondence and archetypal figures that recur in our dreams, unveiling the possible connections always dreams, at the same time, reveal and hide. 

Today the suspended time of forced isolation we all are experiencing because of the COVID 19 alert leads us to acknowledge that a radical change already happened in our lives, and this evidence is no more avoidable.

Today we all are getting to admit that we had lost control over our fast globalized world and nothing from now on will ever be the same, that the signs of this change were already in the air before the virus’ spreading but we couldn’t or wouldn’t see them.

Today, however, we all are more aware of those clues, omens, presentiments around us, realizing that our hopes and emotions can be a guide in a complexity that still remains mostly indecipherable; and it also starts to be clear that is on us, and on us only, if we will be able to find a new way for a common future to come.

This is why we think today is fundamental to give space to our dreams and to explore them together. 

We will continue to do this in the last days and weeks, and will go on sharing the thoughts and images that come from them.

A new session of Social Dreaming Matrix online will be held the next 1st of April.

About my experience as PDE Analyst – IMD Business School, Lausanne

Therapy sessions help MBA: students learn leadership skill

A Swiss business school believes its Jungian approach has a positive impact on graduates


IMD’s dean of faculty and research Anand Narasimhan and Janet Hewetson, who runs the personal development programme at the business school © Dom Smaz/FT

Every Saturday, MBA students at Switzerlandʼs International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, have an hour-long one- on-one session with a psychotherapist.

There are no couches in the rooms used for therapy, but Janet Hewetson, who runs this personal development elective (PDE), makes the space less formal. She pushes the white table normally separating students and professors to one side. Instead, they sit face to face near a board on which they can draw — one of a number of techniques used to express feelings within the session.

“Life here is fast paced,” Ms Hewetson says. “The PDE is an opportunity for students to really pull out of the bubble and get some perspective to

relate to themselves and others. Itʼs an opportunity to switch rhythms from an outward-directed, linear, performance-focused perspective and get practice in slowing down, being reflective and checking in with themselves.”

Courses in leadership with practical support from mentors and career counsellors are now standard at business schools. But IMD has been offering the PDE programme for 20 years, long before most business schools realised the importance of “soft skills”.

And even in todayʼs environment, its offer of regular consultations with Jungian analysts trained at the CJ Jung Institute or the International School of Analytical Psychology Zurich, is still exceptional.

These sessions are very different from the rest of IMDʼs MBA programme. They probe personal and professional backgrounds and concerns through an initial written autobiography. The discussions are supported by a variety of techniques, from dream interpretation to word association, and use a range of therapeutic approaches. Students are encouraged to talk in complete confidence and not share their experiences with others.


Janet Hewetson talks to students about their dreams during her psychotherapy sessions with them © Dom Smaz/FT

Ms Hewetson points to a picture of an iceberg floating largely submerged on a dark blue sea, which she uses to explain the extent of experiences beyond the conscious mind. “Most students are not aware of the unconscious,” she says. “I talk about dreams and ask them about their priorities and how they would like to use our time. The psyche knows, and whatʼs important leads the way.”

When IMD started the PDE programme two decades ago, it was the idea of Jack Wood, a former US Airforce officer, who joined IMD to teach leadership. “The role of unconscious processes had become clear to me from graduate school and my military training,” he says. “Companies love competences but in some contexts your actions are a function of the system you are working in.”

IMDʼs leadership training at that time was provided by mountain guides whose approach was “follow me up the hill, the leader is the one at the front”; and by human resource managers who “ended up colluding unconsciously with participants”.

Mr Wood wanted leadership to be taught by “people with psychological insight, who could read the agenda on and under the table, and ask students about their feelings”. At the time, he was also studying at the Jung Institute, and came up with a plan for teaching the MBA students in a way that would suit both institutions. IMD would offer them 20 therapy sessions, conducted by psychoanalysts from the institute, who needed practical experience to complete their training.

He overcame IMDʼs initial concerns over the rationale and cost and designed a course which drew on the Jungian tradition as well as other schools of analysis. Participation was voluntary, but soon nearly all students were taking part and few dropped out.

Today, support for the programme, which is still optional, permeates the faculty. “We donʼt have this tradition in India — we werenʼt living in ‘Woody Allen landʼ”, says Anand Narasimhan, IMDʼs dean of faculty and research. “There was no self-examination: we were socialised into the idea of an uncomplicated and highly defended idea of the hard-working father and devoted mother. It was avoidance.”

Peter Yorke, vice-president and general manager at P&G Feminine Care, who graduated from IMD in 2002, says: “It forced me to think about the way I behave and look at others in a much more profound way than Iʼd thought about before. I realised we all have slightly different ways of doing things, that culture impacts leadership style and you have to take a step back at the start of an assignment to try to map out peopleʼs motivations and fears.”


He recently resigned from his longstanding employer because he did not want to raise his children in the Gulf. “The PDE had a very profound effect on work/life balance and has given me a really good compass to sort through the most important things in my career and


personal life,” he says.

Sean Meehan, dean of the MBA programme, says: “Students have better discussions about what to do next, resolution around dual careers with their spouse, and whether to take a great job in a non-sexy location. It prepares you for anything.”

He adds that IMDʼs small class size of 90 and proximity to the two Jungian institutes gives it “an opportunity to differentiate: we can offer it to 90. Where [at a larger business school] would you find the analysts for 600?”

Graduates also report that the programme enabled them to reflect more clearly on their management styles and behavioural tendencies. Gráinne Moss, chief executive of New Zealandʼs ministry for children, who was at IMD in 2002, says: “We might like to think we are amazing managers, but ultimately we all have our preconceived ideas and personal experiences. We need to understand what is pushing our buttons and to disaggregate what is the right thing for the customer, the client and the business versus for us. The PDE was incredibly helpful for that.”

IMDʼs course is not classic psychotherapy — it is limited in duration and the clients do not present with a perceived problem for treatment. But Ms Hewetson is positive about the benefits for the analysts as well as for the students and she sees the potential for broader applications.

“Perhaps in the future, we will find increasing roles [for analysts] in institutions,” she says.


Migratory Restlessness

Migratory restlessness: could be a life condition, a symptom, or even a metaphor that makes you dream a little. But is an instinct instead, that pushes birds to migrate twice a year going north in spring and back south in autumn.

This is at least what they tell us at the Migration Observatory in Ventotene, a small Italian island of the Pontine archipelago between Lazio and Campania, where migratory birds stop on the long journey, more than 30.000 km, they do twice a year.

To track the migration routes the researchers of the Observatory put small rings on the legs of the birds entangled in the big nets scattered all around the island, before freeing them. Migratory birds, they tell us, leave Africa in spring to go north to breed, and do the opposite trek in autumn to escape the rigors of winter; going back and forth they travel different routes, because the goal of the trip is different; going north the urge to breed pushes them to travel as soon as possible flying over the sea in a straight line, whereas going back south the route is a curve that can provide some stops to rest and refresh. The return trip lasts therefore a couple of months, but only ten days the forward trip; and if you think the Screaming Albatross is a marine bird that lives normally more than 60 years, during which travels at least 60.000 km a year, the whole count sounds a bit crazy.

The Observatory is also a reservoir of stories, interweaved with the flights.

What do you think is, in example, the weight of the Luì, a small passerine bird with green and yellow feathers? only 7/8 grams, but notwithstanding it can fly uninterruptedly for days without eating and drinking, losing most of its weight in the journey.

The fate of the Big Berta, on the other side, is moving and sad at the same time: very much alike a small albatross, the Berta lives in couple and brood over only one egg at a time, without ever leaving the nest for any reason. Male and female turn on brooding while the other searches for food, and if it doesn’t come back the partner lets itself die rather than abandon the brooding, and the entire family perishes.

Migratory restlessness, then.

I can’t really explain why, but these two words sound in some way familiar to me, with the sense of a destiny.

Why do birds migrate?

Suddenly, after these stories, the question becomes its opposite: how could they not do it?

Which makes the question even more fascinating, the reason of life itself, and gives a new light to our human migrations, that could be sustained by the life instinct instead of the fear of death.

We may ask ourselves, eventually, if the migratory restlessness affects only the birds, and if we shouldn’t rely more on our “migrant genes”, which could free us from those “spider webs in the brain” that, following Bruce Chatwin, sedentary life inevitably provokes.

The veil and the mistery of the feminine

Anthropology, said Levy Strauss, is the science of fragments.

Born as the “colonial” science “par excellence” from the diaries of the first explorers, traders, missionaries, at their encounter with different cultures, anthropology – unlike sociology, philosophy, history, the so-called “big social sciences” aiming to draw universal laws starting from a self-centred vision of the social phenomena – collects small details, minimal descriptions of the daily life of people, colourful fragments that, however, often prove to be dystonic to the whole picture, hence enlarging our cultural frame. Continue reading “The veil and the mistery of the feminine”

One year at Dubai

I arrived in Dubai at the beginning of November 2015.
November is a nice season there, the weather is mild, the sun is always shining though not so hot like in summer, and people stroll around, day and night, along the Marinas, the artificial canals plenty of nice places for eating, drinking teas and smoking “shishas”, according to the Arab tradition, while luxurious boats and traditional dhows cruise the bank from one side to the other. Continue reading “One year at Dubai”

Utopian and dystopian worlds

At the beginning of 2015 my husband was offered a new job as HR Vice-President of the EEMA region (Eastern Europe and Middle Africa) and we were asked to move from Zurich to Dubai.
It was not the first time we moved to a foreign country – actually we always had a kind of “nomadic” life, living in five different countries in the last 15 years -; but when I was asked to move to Dubai I felt a profound sense of disconcert and despair.
I never thought to Dubai as a real country. Continue reading “Utopian and dystopian worlds”