The Archetypal Search for the Treasure Hard to Attain
Enter Hell’s Kitchen, the reality television series featuring Chef Gordon Ramsay and a group of contestants vying to win the grand prize of a prestigious head chef position. In each episode, we find these young disciples enduring public humiliation in front of millions of television viewers. For those unfamiliar with the program, we generally find Chef Ramsay shouting obscenities, throwing objects around the kitchen, and abusively berating the young chefs for their ignorance and incompetence. His behavior resembles that of an out of control, power-hungry leader seeking to break the will of his young initiates, who will do anything to please the keeper of the key to their golden dreams.
As I watched a recent episode, I found myself enraged at this maniacal man for his cruelty, and at us, the viewing public, for finding his behavior entertaining. Our enjoyment of this program only serves to increase its ratings, which in turn reinforces this model of behavior. I also was shocked at how easily the contestants acceded to his demands, and suffered his insults and verbal abuse. But precedents abound throughout history! I began to think of other more severe circumstances where despotic rulers, believing their actions were justified by a higher god or authority, tyrannized their submissive subjects.
Upon reflection, I realized that I was yet again witnessing the power of an archetype to entrain individuals into enacting a much larger and well-orchestrated eternal drama. Personal behaviors were subsumed into an archetypal context, which eclipsed individual discernment, even temporarily extinguishing the necessary instinctual reactions that should have been activated under such conditions. It is fascinating to note that these aspiring chefs may have believed that they were consciously submitting to these conditions to better their chance for achieving their dream. However, a much deeper and profound psychic process was engaged, propelled not by the conscious mind but choreographed by what Dr. Yoram Kaufmann often referred to as the antique soul, calling them to respond to an archetypal imperative — that of the “Treasure Hard to Attain”.
This drama of apprentice and master is essentially a transpersonal one, and demanded the total obedience of each and every player in this Hell’s Kitchen drama. Even the “great” Chef Ramsay was acting out of a possession, driven by an archetypal reality. When an archetype is constellated, human discernment is eclipsed by its needs. In this example, the archetypal mandates of the apprentice were so powerful that the individuals were no longer able to discern what was and was not appropriate treatment at the hands of their “teacher”. However, here we also find a serious skewing of the archetype — Chef Ramsay was not their teacher, but merely the one dangling the carrot in front of them. Unconsciously, they complied with his demands in order to get closer to grabbing the golden ring.
I have had the good fortune to be mentored by two brilliant and exacting teachers. Both held me to a very high standard, but were never cruel or belittling. Why did Chef Ramsay behave in such a violent and abusive way? We can gain some perspective by examining the research findings of Dr. Philip Zimbardo*, a psychologist at Stanford University, whose book, The Lucifer Effect, recounts the story of the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this classic study from the 1970’s, Zimbardo randomly divided college students into groups of “prisoners” and “prison guards” in a simulated prison. Originally intended to last two weeks, the experiment was terminated after six days, due to the brutality of the guards. What caused these students to behave with such abusive cruelty? Zimbardo postulates that context, place, or situation – what I would call an archetypal field — is often the single most powerful determinant of both personal and collective behavior. I am reminded of Dr. Ervin Laszlo’s comment that field precedes form, and the workings of these fields not only determine the shape of events, but also the particular behaviors and tendencies occurring within the constellated field.
My son Christopher told me of a television program he recently watched featuring Chef Ramsay and his family on vacation with Jeremy Clarkson, a well-known television personality and automotive expert. In this episode, Chef Ramsay prepared dinner for the group, and his demeanor was pleasant and friendly – no hostile outbursts. Perhaps it’s because Jeremy Clarkson is about a foot taller than Ramsay or, more truthfully, Ramsay may not be such a bad guy in his private life. It may also be true, as Zimbardo and I have stated, that fields structure phenomena, and all the players in Hell’s Kitchen were unconsciously ensnared in this specific drama.
By understanding and articulating the nature of the constellated field, we can work with it to bring something potentially transformative to fruition. On the other hand, as we see in Hell’s Kitchen, unconscious entrainment to an archetype results in the eclipsing of individual will and discernment. Much of our personal and collective lives are lived under the sway of these powerful archetypal influences. What occurred in Hell’s Kitchen also takes place on a global level, and what may appear to be thoughtful economic policies, diplomatic initiatives or other governmental actions are really the workings of these same archetypal complexes.
We still have much to learn from these types of situations, and if we do our work, perhaps we can stem the tide of blind obedience to these living psychic realities. We need to develop the ability to better understand the meaning and nature of these archetypal processes. Such is the work of Archetypal Pattern Analysis.
In all honesty, I must admit that I am just waiting for that day when Chef Ramsay has to work with a group of Italian-American chefs from Brooklyn !!!!!!
* I would like to thank my friend and colleague, Superior Court Judge Rufus Yent, for introducing me to Zimbardo’s study, and pointing out its parallels to my work on archetypal field theory.