Myths, dreams, shadows and synchronicity
Jung Society of Utah founder Machiel Klerk passes directorship to Adam Nisenson. It began with a dream—literally. Almost a decade ago, Machiel Klerk, a licensed Jungian mental health therapist who specializes in dream work, had a dream one night about founding a Jung Society in Utah that would bring like-minded people together to experience “something soulful, inspiring and mesmerizing.”
In the dream he found himself floating above Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s home on Lake Zurich where Jung was working on a concrete platform. After rearranging beams and creating a place for people to sit, Jung sat on a chair on the platform reading a book.
“The scene, like in a movie, comes to a standstill and turns black and white,” recalls Klerk. “Then the platform with Jung on it disappears and a voice behind me says, ‘Now you have to draw it identical to how it was.’” Klerk took the dream as a suggestion to draw, build, and create a platform for Jung where people could come together and enjoy psychological insights that could help them live more meaningful, fulfilling lives.
The Jung Society of Utah’s first event at the downtown Salt Lake City Library in September of 2009 brought 69 people together. Subsequent events grew from 125, to 175, 200, 250, and 300 people. “There was a resonance in the local community for people who like to tend to their own creative spirit,” Klerk says.
In addition to his private practice as a Jungian psychologist, Klerk is an international speaker and dedicated social entrepreneur. He received his masters degree and trained as a psychotherapist at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in California.
Through Jungian psychology, he says, people connect to the meaning of their life by listening to their dreams and understanding synchronicities—the ability to see the signs and messages of the world. Jungin psychology also embraces the idea of the shadow, that part of us that we repress, discard, and that will trip us up if we ignore it. Integrated, it can help us live a more balanced life.
Jungian psychology also explores the collective unconscious—the notion that we are part of a larger psychic organism. Indigenous cultures sometimes call this the “Other World.”
The Jung Society, likewise, explores traditions that have a sense of connection to the Other World such as African wisdom, Eastern philosophies and the Sufi traditions in Islam.
Over the past decade, the organization has held 95 events, bringing in top thinkers and speakers in Jungian depth psychology and spirituality for public addresses and workshops. Guests have included Jungian analysts, poets like David Whyte, Malidoma Somé from the African wisdom tradition and mythologist Dennis P. Slattery as well as local luminaries such as Diane Musho Hamilton and Theresa Holleran. The evening gatherings are not just lectures but events featuring art, music, and tea and coffee with time for conversation.
A recent event with anthropologist/psychologist/storyteller Michael Meade was standing room only as 390 people packed into the City Library auditorium.
With the organization he founded on solid footing, Klerk is stepping down as its leader. In October, he announced at a dinner with Meade and Jung Society volunteers that he was turning the directorship over to Adam Nisenson, a counseling psychologist.
In a spontaneous ritual to praise Klerk’s work and to wish him well, those at the dinner formed a circle around Klerk while Meade drummed and sang a song of praise from West Africa’s Dagara tribe. Everyone in the circle raised their hands and joined in the singing to celebrate Klerk.
While Klerk says he feels “a profound sense of loss and grief for something that has been so meaningful to me for the last decade,” he has other plans: to finish his book on dreams, build online educational programs and do more shamanic African divinations. Klerk has spent
the last four years training with Malidoma Somé and other shamans from South Africa, where Klerk was born.
Nisenson, who now leads the Society, has served as co-leader of the ManKind Project and works extensively with men and adolescents suffering the effects of abuse, trauma, anxiety and depression. Like Klerk, Nisenson trained in Jungian-based depth psychology and holds a masters degree from the Pacifica Graduate Institute. He moved to Salt Lake from Los Angeles to be with his son, who is an actor in the Utah-filmed Disney series “Andi Mack.”
Nisenson has his own vision for growing the organization. In addition to increasing membership and attendance, he would like to see the Society become more integrated into the community and “the collective conscious of healing, growth and acceptance.” He hopes to tackle issues such as the homeless youth population and what it means to be a man/ woman today. “I’d like to do lecture series that are panel-based and bring in experts and thought leaders around the issues,” he says. He also aspires to be more closely connected with psychology departments at Utah universities.
Nisenson says he’s impressed by the passion and commitment of Society volunteers. “[The organization] wouldn’t happen without them.”
Klerk will continue to serve on the board, attend events and remain connected to his friends in the community.
Says Nisenson, “I think Machiel was brave to start this organization. Some of our greatest accomplishments happen when we follow our heart. Machiel had a dream and followed his heart. The sacrifice he’s made has been huge. He’s also made a sacrifice to know when it’s time to move on. I think that speaks volumes about his integrity. Machiel has given this community a gift. I am so honored to step in and continue his vision.”