Dreams, Art, and the Unconscious: A Jungian Perspective

Dreams, Art, and the Unconscious: A Jungian Perspective

I wrote the following for the Jung Society of Utah blog.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

– C.G. Jung

Carl Jung saw both dreams and art (including paintings and poetry) as expressions of the unconscious. Of dreams he wrote, “The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”

In art, as in dreaming, the unconscious is often activated. In Jung’s essay, “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry,” he wrote of certain creative works in which “we are dealing with an event originating in the unconscious nature; with something that achieves its aim without the assistance of human consciousness, and often defies it by willfully insisting on its own form and effect.” Similar to dreams, this type of art contains “something supra-personal that transcends our understanding to the same degree that the author’s consciousness was in abeyance during the process of creation.”1

A dream or a creative work may serve as “a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious.”2 How then can we use dreams and art to make the unconscious conscious?

Personal and collective unconscious

Jung was known for working with the dreams of his patients, but “he also encouraged his patients to paint and interpreted the paintings in certain of his articles.”2 Jung himself made a practice of drawing mandalas, believing them to be archetypal forms representing the Self. He also created the images in The Red Book.

An image from The Red Book.

Finding psychological value in creativity, Jung “placed emphasis on both process and product.”2 He believed that creating art helped mediate between the patient and their problem, allowing the person distance from their psychic condition.2 Dreams and dream work can often provide a similar perspective, serving a compensatory function that helps integrate unconscious contents.

This mediation between the conscious and unconscious often occurs at the level of the personal unconscious, where both dream work and art work can assist individuals in working through their complexes. At this subjective level, one’s interpretation of a dream or creative work is often filtered through these “core patterns of emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes organized around a common theme.” Becoming aware of and addressing these patterns within the personal unconscious through interacting with a dream or creative work can lead one to greater wholeness.

“What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak to the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind.” – C.G. Jung

However, working with dreams and art can reach a deeper level of the psyche. Jung “saw dreams as having the structure of a story or play.” He noted “many parallels between dreams and myths, and said they sometimes used the same symbols to express their themes.” This archetypal content that Jung noticed in dreams is often expressed in creative works as well. He wrote, “The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life.”1 In accessing this archetypal content, whether through dream work or creative work, one may be able to align with a source of transpersonal understanding that exists outside of ego-consciousness.

A vast sea of meaning

The great Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Poetry is like the boat and its meaning is like the sea.” What Rumi seems to allude to is the idea that a creative work is a world unto itself, and hints at the notion of multiple levels of meaning. The same could be said of dreams.

The actual narrative structure of the dream or text of the poem is the boat, afloat on a vast sea of possible meanings. Such meanings could include one’s personal interpretation of the dream or creative work, a friend’s interpretation of it, and an objective, archetypal interpretation. Each level of meaning is present, available for discovery based on how one interacts with the world of the dream or the creative work. This one reason why there is value in discussing dreams and art with other people—multiple perspectives on the same textual content can shed light on the different levels of meaning, providing a larger, more colorful view of the world that exists within the dream or creative work.

“Poetry is like the boat and its meaning is like the sea.” – Rumi

Working with one’s own personal unconscious or the collective unconscious through interacting with dreams and art provides an opportunity for growth and learning by “making the unconscious conscious.” All levels of meaning, whether personal or archetypal are valuable and have a place within that vast ocean, which is as wide and deep as one’s curiosity and imagination allows.

Works cited

  1. On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry. C.G. Jung.
  2. A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. Andrew Samuels, Bani Shorter, Fred Plaut.

 

I leave you now to the stars

I leave you now to the stars

I leave you now to the stars
This coldest winter night
Far too long since I’ve seen your smile.
I’ll find you
Adrift on the sea of a dream
In the starlight
Made beautiful by the darkness.

I surrender my love to the heavens
This brightest summer day
Wishing you’d believed that it’s real.
You’ll find it
In the fire of the setting sun:
Civil twilight;
Broken embers, yours to claim.

I entrust you now to the angels
This turning of the tide
Knowing you believe in worlds unseen.
They’ll remind you—
Soft winds singing the truth
In the moonlight
As I turn to walk away.

For I cannot follow where you go.

From the longest, darkest night
To the longest, brightest day

Polaris,
Alpha Crucis.

Still…

I walk alongside you,
Hand in hand with Eros
As the sun sets;
As the sun rises.

Alone in the land without time
I kneel before your throne:
The Emperor, fixed in the heavens;
King of Night…

…and a boy
on a raft
lost at sea.

I leave you now to the stars.

 

© Amanda Butler

(Featured image found here)

Travel and Individuation

Travel and Individuation

When I return home from traveling, my apartment always looks different. Intellectually I know that everything is just as I left it, but after being away, the most familiar place in the world to me seems “off” in some way, not how I remembered it. Maybe the shade of paint in the bedroom looks brighter somehow, I think. Or perhaps it’s the way the light from the kitchen window filters in across the table at this hour of day, a time when I’m not usually home. But as I roll my suitcase down the hallway, there’s an overwhelming feeling of alien unfamiliarity. Then I realize it’s me. I’m the element that’s been transformed during my time away.

This transformation is the best thing that could have happened to me. “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished,” Benjamin Franklin wrote. Change is constant and inevitable, and travel provides a positive, meaningful, and deeply rewarding way to embrace change. It’s also a lot of fun. Here are a few of the ways travel has changed me for the better.

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Travel has made me more honest and real. (Photo taken at a toy store in Florence, Italy).

Through contact with people I would not have met otherwise, I’ve developed a better understanding of myself.

The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote, “We meet ourselves time and time again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.” To me, this means that we learn about ourselves through our interactions with others. Traveling has allowed me to meet a variety of fascinating people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. In conversation with each of these strangers, some of whom became my friends, I’ve discovered shared interests, dreams, and goals, or common values. This has highlighted to me that we’re all very much the same at a fundamental level. I have learned something important from all of the friends I’ve made in my travels, especially one.

My first trip out of the US was to England when I was 25. I was traveling alone after a highly sheltered life spent entirely in Utah, where I’ve always felt like an alien amongst the local religious culture. Shy and insecure, I worried that I’d remain alone on my travels because no one would like me. But during my time in England, I met and fell in love with a man I’ll call James. Tall, handsome, charming, and a decade older than me, I was surprised to find out how much we had in common. Not only did he share my love of Star Trek and my loathing for the George W. Bush administration, he was passionate about travel, education, and art. We talked for hours that night, exchanging stories about our lives, and then spent as much time together as possible during my stay. When I returned home, we began a long distance relationship that lasted four years. This new type of relationship experience taught me to truly be ok on my own, how to give and receive love even when a partner isn’t by my side every day, and the importance of emotional honesty. James was also the first person who ever complimented me on my odd personality. When he told me, “You definitely march to the beat of your own drummer, and that’s a good thing,” my whole outlook changed. It was like I suddenly had permission to truly be myself, because for the first time, someone I loved had let me know that he accepted and loved me just as I was.

During our relationship, I often wondered how we could integrate our lives—how I would fit into his world or how he’d fit into mine, especially since he was so different than any other man I’d met. Then I realized that I wouldn’t want him to change to be like the other people in my life; that part of the reason why I loved him is because he was different from anyone else I’d ever known.

All of this came out of my interactions with someone I never would have known had I not left my familiar surroundings. Perhaps I could have learned the lessons of self-acceptance, loving others for their differences, and finding common ground across cultures some other way, but this was the perfect fit for me.

I have gained an understanding of what “home” truly is.

I was excited and a little scared to travel across the Atlantic for the first time. After spending so many years in the same place, the idea of being so far away from home was intimidating. Imagine my surprise when I immediately felt at home in the crowded, unfamiliar streets of London. I had a sense of déjà vu—something about the city felt deeply familiar, though I had never been there before. The feeling followed me to Oxford and Bath, Plymouth and Dover. I felt it so strongly in St. Ives that I never wanted to leave. It was waiting for me again any time I returned to England, and I also felt the same way as I traveled though Scotland and Ireland. It is the most at home I have ever felt anywhere, and mingled with that strange familiarity was a feeling of peace, a calm knowing that even though I was on the “other side of the world,” far away from what was familiar, no harm would come to me and everything would be all right. This has always turned out to be true.

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St. Ives, England

I’m still unsure what was underlying that initial feeling of déjà vu and familiarity in an unfamiliar place, but I’d like to think it has something to do with trusting life—that because I had enough faith and courage to step out of my comfort zone, despite being introverted and anxious, something filled in the gaps in my experience and allowed me to adapt and be flexible enough to find peace in an unfamiliar place.

Through experiencing that adaptability in a way that I hadn’t before, I gained confidence. I was then able to travel to places much more unlike my country of origin with the knowledge that I’d be able to handle anything I encountered there as well. This confidence allowed me to feel safe and secure, even when I was wandering around lost in the hot, crowded streets of Cairo, while barely remembering enough Arabic to say “thank you.” After safely finding my way back to my hotel, I realized that I’d done so without getting caught up in the feelings of panic that I’d experienced in similar situations. This gave me even greater confidence and trust in myself, as I realized that I’ll always be able to navigate any situation I’m presented with.

To me, that’s what feeling at “home” is really about—being able to trust and have faith in myself and my capabilities regardless of the circumstances. If I have enough trust and faith in myself to confidently face and be present with whatever is happening right now, anywhere can feel like home.

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Strange, yet familiar.

I have learned to appreciate life’s mysteries.

Could there be something more to the experiences of familiarity I had while wandering through unfamiliar cities in the UK and Ireland? Perhaps memories of past lives spent in those places? Or possibly epigenetic memories from my English, Scottish, and Irish ancestors, encoded into my DNA and activated by walking down the streets where they may have walked? Maybe I’ll never know, and I’m ok with that. It’s fun to speculate and imagine.

I used to prefer thinking that it was possible to have all the answers, but travel has opened my mind to life’s mysteries. The more I experience of the world, the more I realize how much I don’t know. This is exciting because I love to learn new things—it’s become a huge part of what makes life interesting and worthwhile for me. I find peace in knowing that there will always be more to learn.

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Home in a past life?

In the darkness and shadow of mystery, there is power and magic. During my time in Egypt I took a cruise down the Nile. One evening, just before sunset, the ship’s crew turned off the engines, lights, and music, and we all gathered on the top deck and waited. At dusk, the hazy gray sky burned yellow and orange as the sun sank into the glistening silver river. Away from any city lights, the palm trees and desert sand dissolved into the eerie blackness of 5,000 years ago, and it was almost as if I could feel the presence of Isis and Osiris, watching us from the riverbank. All was still and silent, but only for a few minutes. The deck lights came back on and the party resumed. Through enjoying the contrast of light and dark, knowledge and mystery, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for all the subtle forms of beauty and wonder in the world.

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Sunset along the Nile.

I have come to embrace the bittersweet truth that nothing lasts.

Just as the experience of dark, silent mystery on the Nile lasted only a short time before the lights and music returned, all things eventually end. Travel experiences, relationships, jobs, and anything else will come to some kind of close, whether we’re ready or not, and it’s ok to feel sad about that. After an amazing trip to Ireland, I cried for almost the entire flight back to the US because I didn’t want to leave. Afterward, I felt better and could look back with joy on the wonderful experiences I’d had and new friends I’d made there.

Could it be that part of the reason we fear change, particularly endings, is because we’re afraid of the strong emotions these experiences evoke within us? If so, there’s really nothing to fear. Grief, sadness, and other feelings are only temporary states, like everything else. By choosing to be present with them and experience them fully, they can simply pass through us and be released, replaced by something else. Such strong emotions, even the “negative” ones, add depth and color to our experiences. If we allow for change and endings, letting ourselves be vulnerable enough to experience all of the feelings associated, we grow so much braver and stronger, with improved capacity and confidence to handle anything life throws at us. We also develop greater empathy for others.

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Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Endings will always come, so it is best to simply embrace the change. I’ve learned that the most helpful way to do this is to hold something close, feeling as much appreciation for it as possible while I have it, and then let it go with gratitude when the time comes. There will always be a way to find closure. Remember James, my long-distance love from England? He ended our relationship with no explanation, and I was devastated. The lack of closure I felt left me confused and deeply depressed for several years, but I pushed those feelings aside and tried to distract myself by becoming a workaholic, rarely leaving my home for anything else, even to travel.

Denying myself one of my passions only made things worse, and life finally forced me to deal with my feelings about the situation. When I had done so enough to get back out into the world, I visited England again, nearly a decade after my first time outside of the US. After a miserable ride on the Tube with my suitcase during rush hour, I got off at the stop near my hotel in London and began looking for the address in my itinerary. I had just spotted the hotel when across the street I saw a familiar figure, tall and handsome, instantly recognizable. Our eyes met, and I lifted my hand to wave but he quickly turned and hurried in the opposite direction, disappearing around a corner before I could cross the street. Was it James? Yes, most definitely. How is that possible? One of life’s mysteries. Something always fills in the gaps. The best thing about endings is that they open us up to new beginnings.

Egypt
I had fantasized about visiting Egypt since age five, after seeing the Ramses II exhibit with my parents when it came to our city.

These are just a few ways that travel has changed, healed, and saved me. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page.” Each page I’ve read, whether in the UK, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Ireland, or anywhere else, has transformed me into a better version of myself.

“We shall not cease from exploration,” TS Eliot wrote, “and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” My exploration of the world through travel has always opened me to greater self-knowledge and understanding, with each round of exploration helping me to feel more whole in some way.

 

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Alabaster Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
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Abu Simbel, Egypt
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Irish coastline
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Irish coastline

Capturing the Wind: Aligning with the Archetypal Through Dreams

It was a pleasure to interview Dr. Michael Conforti of the Assisi Institute about his approach to dreamwork for the Jung Platform blog.

 

How can we best understand what our dreams are communicating to us?

According to Dr. Michael Conforti, dream images have an existence autonomous of how we think or feel about them. However, most of modern dreamwork has become very subjective. “People confuse the reaction that the dreamer is having with the message of the dream,” he said. “Psyche is telling a story in a certain way. Let’s get beyond what we think and feel.”

Michael Conforti
Jung Platform is pleased to present a free webinar and a four week course on dreams and dreamwork with Michael Conforti.

To illustrate, he provided the hypothetical example of two therapy clients who dreamed of sailboats. The first client associated sailboats with a romantic vacation in the Greek islands. The second associated sailboats with the loss of multiple family members in a boating accident.“The first interpretation is about passion and sexuality,” Conforti said, explaining that a therapist who is working with this dream might ask the client where they need more eros in their life. In working with the second client, the therapist might ask what is happening in their life related to tragedy.

However, “a sailboat is something unto itself,” Conforti said. “It travels by virtue of the sails, which capture the wind. The wind is the numinous. All that gets lost when you cover it up by the tragedy or the love and the passion. The powerful message of the dream gets lost under those conditions. Subjectivity is often diametrically opposed to the objective and archetypal.”

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A sailboat is an archetypal image with an existence autonomous of how one thinks or feels about it.

“Jung really built on the shoulders of giants before him—the spiritual teachers, the mystics, the sages and the dreamers from the beginning of time—and they knew there was something sacred about the dream,” Conforti said. “They knew the dream was coming from someplace that was beyond what we think about in ordinary consciousness, that supersedes it. They took the images and said, ‘This image is powerful. The dream is trying to awaken us to something we don’t know about.’”

Jung and the early Jungians studied the symbols and images that are often seen in dreams, myths, and fairytales, and found within them “themes of humanity and journeys through life,” Conforti said. “All these stories talk about the portals we cross in different stages of life. These are archetypal situations that have been with humanity from the beginning and are not to be muted by individual bias. But when we take an image and we say, ‘Well, what does it mean to you?’ the absolute autonomy of the image is lost.”

fairy tale
Dreams often contain the same images and symbols seen in myths and fairy tales.

From the subjective to the archetypal

“The response evoked by a dream is often more about our own complexes than about the dream image itself,” Conforti said.“Ninety percent of what we typically do is filtering a dream through a complex and we miss the beautiful meaning of it.” So when working with dream images, Conforti starts with the subjective level, assessing the dreamer’s reaction to the dream.“You have to work through the emotion,” he said. “You’ve dealt with the complex but not the dream.”

However, once the emotions and complexes surrounding the dream have been addressed, it may allow the dreamer access to something deeper that is helping to direct their individuation. “The beauty of this work is to help people see their complexes and then to align with the archetypal,” Conforti said. “When one is able to push aside their own rendering or feeling for a moment and approach the dream, it is the beginning of ushering in their spirituality; of being affected by something bigger than them. But it is a difficult journey from the subjective to the universal.”

Marie-Louise von Franz
“Dreams are like letters from God. Isn’t it time you opened your mail?” – Marie-Louise von Franz

Going back to the image of the sailboat, Conforti spoke of how the wind moves it across the water. “The wind since Biblical times is the Spirit, which moves us through life. When you work with the wind, you have to learn how to capture the wind, to move with the shifting winds, and how to steer, but the wind is guiding you,” he said.“The sailboat is a vessel to cross the collective unconscious. But when you put it into the sausage grinder of ‘what this means to me,’ you lose all of that.”

So in understanding and aligning with the archetypal meaning of dream images, we align with the natural order of life. In doing so, we begin to capture and work with the wind, allowing the Self to guide us toward our destiny.

 

Dr. Michael Conforti will present a four week course on these ideas beginning January 26th. Get your 10% discount by signing up before Jan 8th Enroll here.

Jung Platform is also pleased to present a free webinar on dreams with Michael Conforti on January 12th. Free sign up here.

Loneliness and Solitude: A Jungian View

Loneliness and Solitude: A Jungian View

I wrote the following for the Jung Society of Utah blog:

Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself.”
– C.G. Jung

Loneliness can be described as “perceived social isolation, or the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships.” People are often ashamed of feeling lonely, but loneliness is increasingly common: Time Magazine and the Huffington Post recently published articles describing loneliness as a growing public health concern.

How then can we address this common, yet painful experience?

Loneliness as a messenger

Loneliness can be experienced by anyone, even those who are surrounded by other people. Personally, some of my loneliest experiences have involved trying to connect with loved ones who I felt deeply misunderstood by. From a Jungian perspective, this indicates that feelings of loneliness may often indicate an inner situation that needs to be addressed: “Loneliness is an aversive signal whose purpose is to motivate us to reconnect.”

Like other forms of suffering, loneliness can be a messenger, asking us to address an inner situation.

In order to being the process of reconnection, it is necessary to connect with the unpleasant, lonely feelings, rather than pushing them away, or numbing out with anything that provides a temporary distraction. Turning toward that suffering with compassion and considering its message can help us connect to our own inner resources.

Re-imagining loneliness

If we can let curiosity about the loneliness outweigh our fear of it, we can see what it might have to teach us. From there, we may begin to transform the loneliness through a change in our perception, perhaps seeing it as solitude instead, which offers a chance to know ourselves better and see ourselves more clearly.

Feeling heard, seen, and understood begins with compassionately witnessing what is going on with us. Being in solitude gives us this opportunity to examine our thoughts and reflect on our feelings, values, and desires. In solitude, we can get to know ourselves better, define more clearly what is most important to us, and develop the self-love and self-worth to be able to communicate that honestly. Jung wrote, “It is always important to have something to bring into a relationship, and solitude is often the means by which you acquire it.”

In solitude we may find opportunities for contemplation, as well as healing and self-growth through inner experience.

Connection with the Self

Loneliness can act as a catalyst for our individuation, offering us an opportunity to make our darkness conscious and transmute it into greater understanding and wisdom. This could be seen as connecting with the Self and realizing greater wholeness and coherence within the psyche. When we begin to see ourselves more clearly, recognizing our own inherent wholeness and value as individuals, we improve our ability to connect with others. Jung wrote, “But now, if you are in solitude, your God leads you to the God of others, and through that to the true neighbor, to the neighbor of the self in others.”

“It is … only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures.” – C.G. Jung

Productively addressing our own feelings of loneliness may also help us develop greater appreciation for our connections with others. “Loneliness is not necessarily inimical to companionship, for no one is more sensitive to companionship than the lonely man, and companionship thrives only when each individual remembers his individuality and does not identify himself with others,” Jung wrote. When we truly listen to our feelings and take appropriate action based on what we learn from them, we can become more authentic, which helps us connect with others in deeper, more meaningful ways.

Interview: Thomas Moore on Creating Soulful Relationships

Interview: Thomas Moore on Creating Soulful Relationships

This interview is the second of two with Thomas Moore for the Jung Society of Utah blog.

“How can we know ourselves by ourselves? . . . Soul needs intimate connection, not only to individuate, but simply to live. For this we need relationships of the profoundest kind through which we can realize ourselves, where self-revelation is possible, where interest in and love for soul is paramount.”
– James Hillman

“A soul mate is primarily someone with whom we have a soul connection,” according to bestselling author Thomas Moore. Although not everyone we meet is a soul mate, we can make all of our relationships more soulful.

The soul in relationship

“It’s very important in keeping your soul alive to be attached, to be close to people, to get involved in the entanglements and complexities of life, to really allow yourself to enter life in all of its mess and confusion,” Moore said. “That’s what my friend and teacher James Hillman used to say. “Soul is found in all the messes that we get ourselves into.” However, that shouldn’t provide an excuse to remain unconscious and let our relationships suffer. Moore suggested that a more mature and aware way of being in relationship is simply “through talking to each other and telling the stories of our lives to each other. That’s really important. We’re always influenced by the stories that have become part of our own personal mythology.”

What’s your story?

In fact, Moore places great value on the role personal mythology plays in relationships. “It’s a good idea to know the story we’re in and to know that we’ll never get out of it completely,” he said. “But the more we know it and the more we can tell our story, while admitting that it has some sides that are negative and difficult for us, the more we have a chance at not being so dominated by these images.”

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We can create soulful relationships through listening to one another’s stories with compassion.

Moore said that we often learn these stories from parents and other family members, through social or religious institutions, or from experiences that have deeply affected us. “When someone has had a big rejection in life, that can really affect the way they imagine their relationships in the future,” Moore said. “Someone’s belief systems may also affect their relationships. Some people think that they should only be with people who are of a certain religious or spiritual point of view, so that story influences their relating. Our history, our education, our culture, our family, our experiences all shape the way we see everything.”

It’s important to understand that those around us also have their own personal mythology. “Remembering that other people are in a story as well is the essence of a successful relationship,” Moore said. Keeping personal mythologies in mind can help us have greater empathy for others, especially when they’ve chosen to share any portion of their story with us. “It requires strength to be able to listen to another person saying things you might not want to hear and to think, ‘Well this is a human being they have their background, they have their own destiny, they have their challenges, and they have their life to live. Where we can share it, it’s wonderful,’” Moore said, while also pointing out, “but you can’t share the entire thing, really.”

Mystery, imagination, and compassion

Even when we have shared our stories, there are many things we may never understand about others. “You really are largely mysterious to yourself and the other person,” Moore said. “So when people come together, they really can never fully know themselves. Part of the job in a relationship is to allow the other person to have their mysterious fate and identity, and not demand that they be the way you would like them to be. That’s one of the biggest challenges: To honor their mystery, and also preserve your own.”

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“Love alone is not enough. Without imagination, love stales into sentiment, duty, boredom. Relationships fail not because we have stopped loving but because we first stopped imagining.” ― James Hillman

Because we are so mysterious to ourselves and others, “there is no such thing as a person as they really are,” Moore said. “They don’t exist. The reason is that we are always imagining. We see everything through imagination. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing there, it just means that we can’t perceive the world except through imagination. We’re always seeing through a story, or through images that we’ve developed.”

So while we may never completely understand our loved ones or learn their entire story, we can create soulful relationships through treating others with compassion. In relationships, Moore said, “you are there to be with [someone]. That’s what compassion means. Com- means to be with them and to feel with them. Not to feel the same, but to feel with someone. And so that compassion is a transparent way of having a conversation where you are strong and you have a great capacity to listen to what the other person has to say.”

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“When we practice loving kindness and compassion we are the first ones to profit.” ― Rumi

Interview: Thomas Moore on Soul Mates

Interview: Thomas Moore on Soul Mates

It was wonderful to interview Thomas Moore for the Jung Society of Utah blog. He is a truly kind, intelligent, and soulful person.

 

“I found [my soul] again only through the soul of the woman.”
– C.G. Jung

Carl Jung wrote in The Red Book about coming to know his own soul through relationship with an other. According to author Thomas Moore, our deepest connections with others often teach us the most about ourselves and lead to our greatest development as individuals.

What is a soul mate?

“All of our relationships may be soulful to various degrees,” Moore said. “So you may have a friend that is very close to you, and you could call them a soul mate, even though they’re not a lover.” In his extensive study on the history of the soul, including what it is and how it’s been written about, Moore found that “when you look at Western history, in almost all the books, every spokesperson for soul has written about friendship as being the best model for a soulful relationship. So even if you’re lovers or spouses, the friendship dimension is probably the most soulful aspect.”

ThomasMoore
“A soulmate is someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the communicating and communing that take place between us were not the product of intentional efforts, but rather a divine grace.” – Thomas Moore

“I understand that when people use the term “soul mate” they mean something very special and specific,” Moore said. “I like the idea that people begin to think in more mystical ways about relationship when they think of soul mates. So when you think of a relationship as being destined from eternity, I think it’s really good to shroud your relationship with that.” However, Moore also noted the importance of looking beyond the mystical to face aspects of relationship which can be difficult. “That doesn’t mean that it’s not a human relationship too. If the time comes that you need to end the relationship, you have to be able to do it; you can’t stay with the romantic mysticism of the soul mate idea. So there’s a side to soul that’s very challenging and has a lot of shadow. It takes a lot of work and courage to stick with it.”

One reason for this, Moore said, is because “a soul mate is not the same as compatibility. I don’t think those two things necessarily go together. There may be all kinds of things in ordinary life where you’re not compatible at all.” Some reasons one may feel incompatible a soul mate include poor timing, or an inability to reconcile the relationship with the details of life, such as career and children. “Sometimes the conditions just aren’t right,” Moore said. However, it is often possible to work out the demands of life so that “the deeper values carry over and are stronger, so there is something in common.”

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Our soul mate relationships can help us become our most authentic selves.

This process of “maturing the relationship and getting beyond the initial attraction” is important to the experience because it contributes to the growth of the people involved. “I think we expect relationships to be easy, but the fact is that we are bringing two individuals with unique lives together and it takes a very special vision, a special way of being together where you’re not expecting the other person to be a carbon copy of you,” Moore said. “We tend to think that the other person will have the same psychological makeup we have. They don’t. They also don’t have the same destiny or the same values. And yet we can share the process. We can enjoy watching and being with the other person as they emerge into their own individual nature. And we can hope that they become more of an individual because of our relationship.”

Daimonic invitations

“When we talk about soul mates we have to understand that part of that sense of destiny is also daimonic,” Moore said. “We haven’t just rationally said, ‘There’s someone who looks like my type or looks like we could probably share a life together pretty well.’ You just get struck and you want to get to know that person. You may know nothing about them, yet still you’re drawn and you don’t know why.”

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Each person is said to have a daimon that guides their destiny, possibly drawing them into soul mate connections.

While it is necessary to sort out the details and “see if that passion can create a life or not,” Moore said “the daimonic aspect is there to bring people together and to keep a person in that place where you’re not living too rationally all the time. It’s a different way of living. You respond to the passions you feel that pass through you. You are not responsible so much as you are responsive. You respond to the invitations that are daimonic.”

Why does the daimon invite us into these soul mate connections? “The material of our psyche or soul is raw at first,” Moore said, describing the prima materia of passions and desires we might not know what to do with. “One of the purposes of relationship is to create an alchemical vessel in which that raw stuff can be cooked and sorted out. So you sort out the raw material that is in you, and in a way you’re also helping your partner sort out his or her material,” Moore said, and pointed out the difficulties this can cause. “When you have a deep soul connection like that, it’s not easy to be the partner of someone who is pursuing their own deep life, which is always changing.”

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We can be transformed through the alchemy of relationship.

However, having such a connection is “a deep, profound, dynamic, mysterious source of identity that is wonderful because it traditionally is what makes you feel alive,” Moore said. “It makes you feel an individual. Those are wonderful gifts to have. But at the same time it means that the challenges are very strong and very deep.”

The eternal in the temporal

Even though dealing with such constant change can be difficult, the process provides “a possibility of great depth and joy because if it’s really a relationship that is full of soul then, it’s very deep and there’s a lot of mystery in it,” Moore said. “If you have a relationship where you feel that you are soul mates, it is a very deep, ritualistic way of honoring the fact that there’s some connection there that is mysterious and mystical, which I think is the essence of what the soul mate idea is. Having that can give everything you do a dimension that is very profound, and gives you the sense that the eternal is part of the temporality of your relationship. That can hold you together more effectively than the temporal side.”

Book Review – The Unseen Partner: Love and Longing in the Unconscious

Book Review – The Unseen Partner: Love and Longing in the Unconscious

It was a joy to write this review of Diane Croft’s beautiful book, The Unseen Partner: Love and Longing in the Unconscious, for the Jung Society of Utah blog. The book is a poetic documentation of her individuation journey. Highly recommended.

“I have again and again been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to explain what it is…For we are in the deepest sense the victims and the instruments of cosmogonic “love.””
– C.G. Jung

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The Unseen Partner: Love and Longing in the Unconscious is a poetic documentation of Diane Croft’s personal journey of individuation.

“In the center of my being, there is no external object of affection—no I love you—just love itself,” Diane Croft writes in The Unseen Partner: Love and Longing in the Unconscious. “This is transpersonal love, an ideal psychological state only temporarily felt.” In her book, Croft describes the journey to that center, guided by an “unseen partner” through automatic writing. Croft’s personal confrontation with the unconscious came in the form of poetry, fragments of which appeared each morning for three years. She “took dictation,” and then spent two decades making sense of the experience.

The Journey to the Center

The gods grew tired of waiting
and woke me from a heavy sleep,
not by shaking my shoulder
but by breaking my heart.

In the commentary for the poem above, Croft describes her life at the time as “out of balance,” relying too heavily on intuition and thinking as her dominant functions. “What “the gods” were attempting to do was to redirect my energies at midlife toward feeling and sensing.” Some form of heartbreak is often inherent in the individuation process, as a person finds that the ways of being in the world that had previously served him or her well are no longer working. “The individuation process begins with a psychological “death,” a descent into the unconscious, for the purpose of “resurrecting” that which was lost to consciousness, namely our connection to the life-giving aspect of the psyche,” Croft writes, while also acknowledging that “few people are willing to undergo the process of individuation because it’s so disagreeable.”

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The Silence by Johann Heinrich Fussli mirrors Croft’s feelings of alienation during parts of her individuation process.

Several poems and their commentary make clear that Croft often found the process quite disagreeable indeed. In a poem titled “Barren,” she describes the ““dark night of the soul,” where life feels emptied of psychic content and meaning.” However, by surrendering to the process through what she refers to as “conscious suffering,” she was able find greater acceptance of herself and her life. “Suffering—that painful feeling we all try to avoid—understood in the larger context, means a willingness to bear our own burdens in life, an acceptance of life as it is (a natural conflict of opposites) that takes on meaning when we attempt to balance it ethically.”

The Great Presence Within

For Croft, that attempt to find balance and meaning was a “process of searching…But what I seek has been staring right at me all along, which speaks to the reciprocal nature of an ego-Self reflection, i.e., seeing and being seen… From a Jungian point of view, the “game” is to redeem by conscious realization the hidden Self. This is not a passive game of the redemption of God through faith, but an active process of making conscious the Great Presence within, to seek and find our own true self.”

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The individuation process opens a dialogue between the inner and outer world. (Image: “Oak tree standing on lakeside with reed and reflection by Hartmut Josi Bennöhr.)

Through this process of creating a dialogue between her inner and outer worlds, and embracing her authenticity, Croft found that “there is love in the unconscious. But first we must make manifest and heal what has been hidden and ignored. How do we take part in this transformation? For the unconscious to become morally responsible, it must first be seen.”

Croft presents individuation as a journey of love: To truly see and heal these hidden and ignored aspects of ourselves, love is required. When we are able to accept and love our own shadow aspects, we are better able to love others in the same way. From there, we may access the type of transpersonal love Croft writes of near the end of the book, a love with no object, which, though felt only temporarily, has great power to transform. The purpose of the individuation process, as Croft describes it, is to lead us to that center of transpersonal love, from which we can truly be authentic.

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Croft selected images from Wikimedia Commons to accompany each poem. (Image: Jester reading a book.”)

Croft’s writing is clear and elegant throughout the book, offering an excellent description of what individuation is and how this experience can manifest. She makes Jungian ideas deeply relatable through the poetry and her commentary, which is rich with relevant quotes, particularly from Jung, Edward Edinger, and Rumi. In bringing her experience to consciousness with this book, Croft has made the unconscious morally responsible through love, truly a heroine’s journey.