The Lichen Pact

Balancing your outer and inner life

In the Eye of the Storm

An individual response to the Global Crisis

ISSN 1939-3407


April 17, 2020

Ashok Bedi, M.D., Jungian Psychoanalyst

Robert BJ Jakala PH.D., Jungian Psychotherapist

In a storm, the safest place is in the eye of the storm. My colleague BJ and I will share our daily reflections on this centering process from an Analytical perspective, sharing from the repertoire of our personal and professional experience. BJ is a psychologist and a photographer and will pick an image of the day that catches him in this collective crisis. I will amplify it from a Jungian Analytical perspective. We hope that this may offer you a baby step on the path to your own unique response to this chaos.

When we must deal with problems, we instinctively resist trying the way that leads through obscurity and darkness. We wish to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about then we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness. (Jung, 1960b, p. 389)

The tree is dressed in a variety of lichen, a symbiotic blend of fungi and algae. The green and white patches adorn without real harm to the bark. The tree is a substrate and does not provide any nutrients to the lichen. (Lichen will also form on rocks.) Even though they are not considered plants, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen to the air. Their health greatly depends on air quality and are seldom seen near factories or in places with the air quality is poor.

The image is like a surreal painting. It is gives visual liberation to my conscious mind and a challenge of exposure to my unconscious. I want to shape in into something more familiar and call it a “thing.” My mind keeps saying, “Well, it looks like a …”and nothing definitive solidifies. So, I must move out of the familiar external world and experience what arises out of my unconscious. I “venture” deeper until something unknown reveals itself and I emerge with it.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has both defined and unknown aspects. The daily and cumulative number of cases and deaths provide prevalence, but only to a degree of reality. The availability of testing has not given us a complete picture. The shape of this event continually changes.

Lichens are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms, a fungus and an alga.
Fungi do not contain chlorophyll or any other means of producing their own food so they rely on other organisms for nutrition. Fungi are widely known for their role in the decomposition of organic matter. One important function of lichens is that they provide a mode of survival in harsh environments where algae cannot normally survive. Since the fungus can protect its algae, these normally water-requiring organisms can live in dry, sunny climates without dying, as long as there are occasional rain showers or flooding to let them recharge and store food for the next drought period. Because lichens enable algae to live all over the world in many different climates, they also provide a means to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through photosynthesis into oxygen, which we all need to survive.

One of the ways lichens directly benefit humans is through their ability to absorb everything in their atmosphere, especially pollutants. Lichens can provide us with valuable information about the environment around us. Any heavy metals or carbon or sulfur or other pollutants in the atmosphere are absorbed into the lichen thallus. Scientists can extract these toxins and determine the levels that are present in our atmosphere.

Humans and their environment are a Lichen phenomenon. If we live symbiotically with our environment, there is mutual sustenance. However, if we become exploitive and disrespectful of your environment, the Lichen covenant is broken. All sorts of ecological disasters befall us.

This Lichen pact is a projection of our Lichen pact between our Conscious and our Unconscious. When either side gets disconnected from the other, neither can survive. When we live an Ego dominated life, we may become Neurotic. When we live out of the Unconscious without the medication of Consciousness and its Ethics, we may succumb to Psychosis. When as a society we break this Lichen pact of partnership between our Ego and our Depths, living a superficial, materialist life, the Spirit of the Depth, the Spiritual dimension of Collective human consciousness becomes dark and sinister. This darkness that gets projected onto the outer world and manifests as pandemics and tsunamis, Chernobyl and the Three mile islands; until such time as each one of us individually and we as a society and human community restore the Lichen pact between our material and spiritual lives, between expediency and sustainability, between exploitation and altruism. We may have no other choice.

Some Points to Ponder:

  1. How does the image impact you?
  2. How do you cope with uncertainty? (Generally, and specifically in this pandemic)
  3. What effect has a symbiotic relationship had on your life?
  4. What do you do when you cannot clearly define something?
  5. When do you internalize or externalize your response to the unknown?
  6. Do you feel that your personal life balances the outer life with attention to your inner life?
  7. How do you connect with your inner life?
  8. Do you support Societal policies of expediency or sustainability, exploitation or altruism?
  9. What can you do to restore this Lichen pact in your personal life?
  10. How can you advocate for the Lichen pact in your community and its policies?

Picture taken in St. Petersburg, FL.

Jung, C. G. (1960b). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. New York: Pantheon Books.

© Ashok Bedi, M.D. and Robert BJ Jakala, PH.D.