An Interview with Susan Tiberghien by Jennifer Lauren
Susan Tiberghien is the author of Looking for Gold, One Year in Jungian Analysis, Circling to the Center: A Woman’s Encounter with Silent Prayer, One Year to a Writing Life, Footsteps: In Love with a Frenchman and most recently-Writing Toward Wholeness: Lessons Inspired by C.J Jung. American-born but based in Geneva, Switzerland, Tiberghien has also lived in Belgium, Italy and France. She has worked with the International Women’s Writing Guild since 1990, and continues to teach in the States and Europe.
The following is a discussion around harvesting our dreams, Susan’s newest book, and her ongoing work with the Guild.
Jennifer: You have worked with IWWG since 1990. IWWG defines itself as a safe, empowering space for women of all ages to connect, create and grow. In your view, why is finding one’s supportive, creative community important?
Susan: I needed encouragement to be myself and to consider myself a writer. I think women of all ages still need this encouragement. I found it in the Guild. From my first day at the summer conference in 1990, people welcomed me, asked who I was, what I was writing. I had to find answers.
Jennifer: In one chapter of Writing Toward Wholeness, you describe becoming involved with the International Women’s Writing Guild and that that helped spark the origins of Looking for Gold, your book about finding the alchemical gold within. That title and theme came to you in a dream. Do you think that speaking about dream exploration aloud to a receptive community aided in the birth of the book?
Susan: I believe the dream came to me at the conference, because I had been talking to receptive women about the dreamwork I was doing with a Jungian analyst. I went to bed and dreamed that I was writing about this in a book, that I would call it Looking for Gold, that it would treat several dreams from the first year of analysis. In this way, the book was born at the Guild.
Jennifer: Writing Toward Wholeness references a Maya Angelou quote: “Dreams can tell people all sorts of things. They can work out problems. Especially for writing.” She refers to “deep talk,” a tradition in West Africa. Can you speak to this process? How can our dreams help enlighten our everyday burdens and challenging decisions?
Susan: I love these words of Maya Angelou, that dreams can be “deep talk.” It comes from an important book, Writers Dreaming, by Naomi Epel who interviews many different writers about how they write from their dreams. We dream one fourth of our lives, it would be foolish not to listen to them. And in listening, we tame them, like we tame pets. The more we listen, the more we write them down, the more we understand them.
Jennifer: You suggest that if we take the step toward writing down our dreams, this is a step toward wholeness—bridging our conscious and subconscious selves. Can you explain?
Susan: Here is an example: If I write down a dream about silly little frogs teasing and dancing in front of me, if instead of saying this is too silly I ask myself what they have to tell me, I may learn that they are inviting me to go with them into the underworld. I may remember the Greek play, “The Frogs," by Aristophanes where the frogs lead the God Dionysus into the under world to bring back a great poet who recently died. And so I am to follow my silly frogs to find my deeper creativity.
By working with the dream, writing it down, looking for associations, amplifying the images, I have bridged the visible world and the invisible. In so doing, I am writing wholeness, toward connectedness, toward oneness.
Jennifer: You bring up that Carl Jung asks us: “What is your myth—the myth in which you live?” This reminded me of the song ‘Myth’ by the band Beach House. Why is it important for us to explore this question?
Susan: Myth in this question refers to the pattern of meaning that we find in our lives. How do we relate to life’s mystery? Each of us has their own myth. Jung felt as a young adult that he no longer lived in the Christian myth. He had to find his own myth. So must each of us.
Jennifer: Some people remark that they do not have dreams when they sleep—or that they never remember them. What is your take on this?
Susan: I think, as psychologists and scientists claim, that we all dream, but we do not all remember our dreams. I mentioned above taming our dreams but writing them down I’m confused by this sentence. Another image to use in thinking about dreams is that of a plant. Plants─dreams─thrive in the dark. We have to go into the dark to find them. They need to be watered, need to be listened to. And they finally need sunshine. But too much sunshine (cerebral thinking) withers them.
Jennifer: You are a mother of six, a global citizen, a writer and lecturer. How does your ongoing work with the International Women’s Writing Guild inform all these other roles that you juggle?
Susan: The Guild continues to ask me who I am and what do I write. For 28 years the members of the Guild have encouraged me to stand up for myself, for what I believe, for what I want for the world. I remember writing an essay for the IWWG Network, maybe almost 20 years ago, answering the question “Who am I?” It took me months. Was I a woman, or a mother, or a writer, or a friend? I had to put the parts together, juggle the roles, find myself and write about it.
Jennifer: You started writing at 50 years old. The book A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon posits that life begins—rather, flourishes—after 40 for the daring, creative woman. When I read Yoga For Life by Colleen Saidman Lee around the same time, I was struck by how she described coming into middle age as freeing, where you aren’t inclined necessarily into people pleasing mode anymore. What are your thoughts about this era?
Susan: I think to be honest I will always want to please people. But it is no longer the priority. My priority is to share a bit of light in the world around me. One of Jung’s young adult dreams found him in dark stormy woods carrying a small light. This was his purpose. To keep the light burning. The light for Jung was his growing consciousness. I think the light for me is love. To so love those around me that together we create a growing community of love.
Jennifer Lauren is an experienced young professional working in international education and global communications, who has collaborated with the agriculture, labor, health and education sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Western Balkans on creating and sustaining responsive creative and flexible learning opportunities for girls and transitional youth to complete their high school education and locate meaningful careers or entrepreneurship opportunities. She helped launch the social learning platform T21 and is currently helping develop “Welcome Home," a youth-led initiative from Portugal that trains homeless people to become tours of their hometown. She is also currently advising the development of the documentary “Revealing Faces.”