In Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, authors David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates discuss the differences people display in their thinking, beliefs, desires, and emotions. However, rather than simply recognizing and accepting these differences in others, we tend to pathologize them: “Seeing others around us differing from us, we conclude that these differences in individual behavior are temporary manifestations of madness, badness, stupidity, or sickness.” Having viewed others this way and experienced this kind of treatment myself, I can relate to the authors’ claim that, “our attempts to change spouse, offspring, or others can result in change, but the result is a scar and not a transformation.”
To help create better acceptance and understanding of oneself and others, the book includes the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, a short questionnaire to help readers determine their personality type. The four-letter result will look familiar to anyone who has taken the Myers-Briggs.
These 16 personality types are grouped into the temperaments described below.
Artisan (ISTP, ISFP, ESTP, ESFP): People of this type make up about 35% of the population. This type seeks sensation. Artisans are spontaneous and action-oriented, and tend to focus on the present moment. They are often artistically gifted, unconventional, and can be impulsive. Guardian (ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, ESFJ): Also making up about 35% of the population, people of this type seek security. They focus on duties and responsibilities, like to follow rules, and usually enjoy tradition. Guardians are down to earth and pride themselves on being trustworthy. Rational (INTJ, ENTP, INTP, ENTJ): People of this type make up about 13% of the population. This type seeks knowledge, wanting to “understand, control, predict, and explain realities.” Rationals are pragmatic and efficient, love intelligence, and desire competence. Idealist (INFJ, ENFP, INFP, ENFJ): Making up 17% of the population, people of this type seek identity. They focus on hopes, goals, and possibilities, guided by their own personal code of ethics. Idealists are interested in self-growth and are often talented at verbal and written communication.
While understanding temperament types can help us relate to partners, family members, friends, and colleagues more effectively and with greater empathy, this understanding can also prove beneficial in a therapeutic context. People of one temperament type may be more likely than others to receive certain diagnoses. “The vast majority of clients that I work with who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) traits are Idealist personality types,” Shannon McQuade, LCSW, LMT, said. In McQuade’s experience, people of this type also seek therapy most often, due to their focus on self-growth and search for identity.
“Idealists are “intuitive” which is to say that they “look inward” to process information,” McQuade explained. “Under stressful conditions, this can lead to dissociation. It can cause a loss of a sense of self and confusion so characteristic of BPD. Idealists are also strong “feelers”, which is to say that they’re highly sensitive people who can be overwhelmed or stressed fairly easily if overstimulated. BPD has a biological sensitivity and environmental component. An intuitive feeler Idealist growing up in a chaotic environment can develop the very same symptoms we see in BPD.” This type of understanding can help mental health professionals view their clients more holistically, rather than simply focusing on their diagnosis.
Keeping temperament types in mind can help us relate to those around us as individuals, rather than viewing them as flawed and in need of correction. The book provides useful information about how to do this, with descriptions of each temperament type as a mate, as a manager, and as a child. I especially liked the section on how best to show appreciation to each temperament type. The book is enjoyable to read and offers practical ways to understand others better in all situations.
Psychotherapy can offer a lot of assistance with feeling understood and understanding others. I’m a licensed associate marriage and family therapist, and am accepting new clients (Utah only), both in person and over telehealth. Find out more here.
Energy work can also be of great value in understanding self and others, especially when combined with psychological perspectives. I offer energy healing and coaching to people worldwide. Book a session or find out more here.
Meditation has been an integral part of many spiritual and religious traditions for thousands of years. However, research into the health benefits of meditation has been relatively recent.
Since the 1950s, hundreds of studies have been conducted on the effects of meditation by measuring changes in the brain and body. Overall, these studies have shown that meditation can have a positive effect on health, particularly mental health.
Research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found the following positive outcomes associated with meditation:
A literature review of 47 trials in 3,515 participants suggested that mindfulness meditation programs improved anxiety and depression.
A review of 36 trials that used meditative therapies for anxiety found that 25 of them reported better outcomes for anxiety symptoms in the meditation groups compared to control groups.
A small study of adults with chronic insomnia found that meditation-based programs aided sleep, reducing the severity of insomnia.
In a study of smokers who received two weeks of meditation training, there was a 60% reduction in smoking, with no such changes seen in the control group.
Why does meditation positively impact mental health? Dr. Andrew Vidich, an author and teacher who provides trainings on meditation, says that meditation practices help us to “deal with the cause of stress, which is how we respond to environmental stressful factors. Because it’s not a question of what’s out there, it’s a question of how we respond to what’s out there. This depends on your own inner state of well-being.”
“The shift of the meditation process is to redirect the focus from the outside to the inside, and to reconnect it to the source from which it has arisen,” Vidich says. “It’s not about thinking about thoughts, it’s about disconnecting from thoughts and putting your attention somewhere else.”
“We learn through the meditation process that you have thoughts but you are not your thoughts. You can choose to identify or not identify with every thought that goes through your brain,” Vidich says. “You can choose not to identify with thoughts that are negative. Our thoughts create our reality, whether happy or sad, patient or impatient, grateful or ungrateful, whether in the moment or out of the moment, whether regretting the past or fearing the future, that’s what this practice is all about.”
Through gaining greater control over our thoughts, we may actually change our brains, rewiring our neural pathways to function in ways that are more conducive to well-being. Meditation training can also positively affect brain function even outside of a meditative state.
Vidich recommends meditation “not just because the science tells us it is beneficial on so many different levels, but because individuals find it extremely useful on a variety of different levels.” In addition to its health benefits, meditation provides “a tremendous benefit for concentration, creativity, sense of inner stability, and resilience,” Vidich says. “Meditation is a deepening understanding of who we are.”
Additionally, meditation may even increase empathy, which has important implications for our social interactions.
“Meditation is a technique that anyone can practice, regardless of your religious or spiritual background,” Vidich says. Even better, it’s free and is available at all times.
Interested in beginning a meditation practice? You can find free guided meditations at the Real Caring website. A variety of guided meditations can also be found on YouTube.
For additional help managing stress and difficult thoughts:
Psychotherapy can offer a lot of assistance with this and other mental health challenges. I’m a licensed associate marriage and family therapist, and am accepting new clients (Utah only), both in person and over telehealth. Find out more here.
Energy work can also be of great value in managing thoughts, increasing mindfulness, and with other concerns, especially when combined with psychological perspectives. I offer energy healing and coaching to people worldwide. Book a session or find out more here.
This blog post is the first in a series that discusses basic concepts of Carl Jung’s psychology. It appeared first on the Jung Society of Utah blog. For anyone new to Jungian psychology, or for those who would like a refresher on some of his central concepts, these blog posts provide an overview, including definitions, as well as further explanation and commentary by experts in the field. We begin by exploring the concept of the Self.
The Self is one of the primary concepts in Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s psychology. Jung defined as the Self as “the totality of a person’s being,”1 and the word is capitalized to denote its centrality and sacredness. Jung believed that the Self is the “central force guiding our development: he saw this energy expressed in our ability to change form and evolve, while maintaining our personal identity,”2 and as “the blueprint of our potential unfolding and the path to greater unity of the conscious and unconscious in us. Jung saw it perpetually reorienting us towards balance and guiding us into greater wholeness.”3 In this way, the Self may be seen as an inner companion that can provide guidance and support, even in difficult times.
Jung referred to the Self as the archetype of the individual and stated that “the Self is all embracing,”4 including the “conscious and unconscious psyche.”5 Jung further claimed that the Self “might equally well be called ‘the God within us.’”6 Jung also referred to the Self as “the principle and archetype of orientation and meaning. Therein lies its healing function. For me this insight signified an approach to the center and therefore to the goal.”7 In this approach, “There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self.”8
Jungian analyst June Singer provided further explanation, stating that it is the energy of the Self
which provides the thrust for the individuation process. I cannot describe what it is, for I do not know, but I can tell how it feels. It feels as if one were being drawn inward toward a center of great luminosity, yet to fly straight into it would be like a moth darting into a flame or the earth hurtling itself into the center of the sun. So one moves about the center instead, close enough to see the brightness, to feel the warmth, but maintaining the orbital tension, a dynamic relationship of a small finite being to a source of light and energy that has no limits.9
Similarly, Jungian analyst Murray Stein wrote that “in the lifelong unfolding that Jung calls individuation, the driving force is the self, the driving force is the self.”10 Describing its role as the conductor of the individuation process, professor of depth psychology Elizabeth Nelson wrote that the Self “will disturb, cajole, and importune in any number of remarkable ways, particularly when everything appears perfect.”11 Singer further claimed that the Self is “both a guide and the goal”12 of individuation. She continued by stating that “the striving toward [the Self] produces greater consciousness of our whole character, the shadows as well as the light.”13 Of this process, author Gary Bobroff wrote, “in becoming more whole, we become more of who we are, and we usually become better able to express ourselves and share our particular gift.”14
Jungian analyst James Hollis described the Self as “the purposiveness of the organism, the teleological intention of becoming itself as fully as it can . . . The Self is unknowable, though its intentionality may be inferred from its expression through the venues of the body, affect, cognition,”15 as well as through symptoms and dream images. He further explained, “As the Self embodies the totality of the organism and its mysterious, autonomous activity, so we may never know it fully any more than a swimmer could know the ocean.”16 Because of this, one must be content with “‘a sense’ of Self, the Self forever unknown, unknowable.”17
In addition, Stein explained that because the Self encompasses both the conscious and unconscious psyche, it may allow us to “know things that are beyond our conscious possibility of knowing.” 18 The Self may be seen as the keeper or mediator of this knowledge. Thus, “experiences of the Self are numinous, powerful, moving and transcendent. Alongside our powerful biological instincts stands an equally powerful urge to become who we could be and to connect to something beyond the personal.”19 The unique life one creates is from this place of transcendence is “not cut off from others or made more important than any other life on the planet. It is simply affirmed as one experiment in human life that is unique because of its precise position in the common matrix.”20 In being fully oneself, something entirely new and authentic is created that contributes to the collective, often in beautiful and surprising ways.
I enjoyed writing this review of Knowledge in a Nutshell: Carl Jung by Gary Bobroff for the Jung Society of Utah blog. The book is an excellent primer on Jungian concepts. Highly recommended.
“To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is” 1
– C.G. Jung
“Jungian psychology is something that we do,” Gary Bobroff writes in Knowledge in a Nutshell: Carl Jung. “Its work is to come into greater relationship with ourselves, to discover and relate to parts of ourselves beyond our regular conscious awareness.”2 As a Jungian-oriented therapist, I have found this to be true, and Jung’s body of work can be a powerful guide on the difficult journey of creating this relationship with oneself. However, for those who are unfamiliar with Jung, the complexity and sheer volume of his written work may be overwhelming. This was my experience six years ago (before I began my career as a therapist) when I became interested in Jung and his work.
I first came across Jung’s ideas on introversion, which were cited in a book that had been recommended to me. I became curious about him and sought out the source material, but often struggled to understand it, despite having some background knowledge of psychology. Bobroff’s book would have been a great help to me at that time. It contains good descriptions of Jungian terms in simple language. The writing is clear and engaging, easily understandable even for those with no background in psychology. This would be an excellent book to recommend to clients or others who are interested in learning about Jung’s basic ideas.
The book is also enjoyable to read, with several charming anecdotes about Jung that I had not come across before. In my favorite one, Bobroff writes, “C.G.’s laugh was so infectious that his secretary Aniela Jaffe told the story of a hiker who, travelling the road above Eranos, a research centre in Switzerland, heard laughter from high above in the mountains and had to come and investigate who this man was.”3
Bobroff presents a concise yet thorough introduction to who Jung was and his ideas. Included are chapters on the shadow, inner work, the Self, personality types, archetypes, anima and animus, and synchronicity. Each chapter provides examples to help readers understand these big concepts, as well as ways to connect with them personally:
“Integrating the shadow sometimes begins when we notice ourselves doing something out of character. Perhaps with genuine embarrassment, you wonder: ‘Why did I get so angry just then?’ For a moment, you’re seeing a part of yourself with which you’re not very comfortable. Our blind spots are momentarily revealed to us in such ways.”4
Such an approach gives readers a practical way of working with material that can often seem heady and overwhelming, as well as an entry point for engaging in a grounded way with the unconscious, which “holds the blueprint of who we are… The task of unfolding that pattern requires a relationship to inner forces within us.”5 The journey to relate to these inner forces and “search for who we really are, including both our current known ego self and a future version of ourselves which includes more of our unconscious potential, is the quest of Jungian psychology.”6 This book offers a helpful ally on that quest.
For anyone who wants to find out who Jung was and/or find out more about themselves, Bobroff provides a good place to start. Those new to Jung will find a strong primer on the foundational elements of his theories, with suggestions on how to learn more. For those who have more familiarity with Jung, the book is an excellent review and a useful reference. I was personally impressed with Bobroff’s strong understanding of Jungian concepts, and his ability to elegantly distill the essence of Jung’s massive body of work into about 230 pages—clearly a heroic task.
In describing the importance of inner reflection and self-understanding, Bobroff writes, “In the face of today’s challenges, it remains within the power of every individual to be ‘the makeweight that tips the scales.’7 The ultimate reason that we’re still talking about Jung today is because of how seriously he took the inner life. May this book inspire you to realize how important yours is too.”8
Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts of our body is death. So beautiful appeared my death—knowing who then I would kiss,
I died a thousand times before I died. “Die before you die,” said the Prophet Muhammad. Have wings that feared ever touched the Sun? I was born when all I once feared—I could love.
~ Rabia Al Basri, Sufi poet
Carl Jung wrote, “When death confronts us, life always seems like a downward flow or like a clock that has been wound up and whose eventual “running down” is taken for granted.”1 In the year that has passed since my father’s death, I’ve experienced this sense of the clock running down. He was 67 years old, 30 years older than me, and the idea that half of my life might be over gave me pause about how I was spending my days. Along these lines, Jung continued:
When an aging person secretly shudders and is even mortally afraid at the thought that his reasonable expectation of life now amounts to only so many years, then we are painfully reminded of certain feelings within our own breast; we look away and turn the conversation to some other topic.1
Of this hesitancy to look at death, poet John O’Donohue wrote, “Though death is the most powerful and ultimate experience in one’s life, our culture goes to great pains to deny its presence…the rhythm of death in life is rarely acknowledged.”2 However, acknowledging, accepting, and even developing a relationship with death can help one to live a fuller, more vibrant life.
Jung suggested that the psyche might have a continued existence beyond death, “that it isn’t entirely confined to space and time…to that extent, the psyche is not submitted to those laws and that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence beyond time and space.”3 However, despite any hints about an afterlife, death remains a mystery. In order to cope with that mystery, Jung wrote that a person “ought to have a myth about death, for reason shows him nothing but the dark pit into which he is descending.”4 Jung viewed death as “an archetype, rich in secret life, which seeks to add itself to our own individual life in order to make it whole.”4 From this perspective, “symbols and images of death may be understood in terms of their significance and meaning for life, while experiences and intimations of life need to be construed as leading towards death.”5 Seen this way, life and death become companions, and equal parts of a complete human existence.
Accepting death as a part of life can help a person to cope with various forms of transition. “Life is an ocean with rising and falling tides. This means death is always implicit in it.”6 From this perspective, all changes in life can be seen as small deaths along the way, and turning toward the element of death that is inherent in all transitions can provide a means of overcoming fear. “To continually transfigure the faces of your own death ensures that, at the end of life, your physical death will be no stranger, robbing you against your will of the life that you have had.”2 Becoming familiar with death as a part of life can transform this archetype from a frightening adversary to a guide who can help one find courage in walking their individual path:
Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.’7
The freedom and peace that come from creating a relationship with death can open the way for new possibilities, as well as greater self-expression and authenticity. “Masquerading behind the face of your physical death is the image and presence of your deepest self, which is waiting to embrace and meet you.”2 Released from the fear of death, one is able to live a fuller life and pursue their highest potential. Jungian analyst Erel Shalit spoke of life as being like a candle—the candle will never live out its purpose if it is not lit. “Only a candle you don’t like will never burn out. To live your life fully means that the candle will burn out.”8 Creating a relationship with death can provide the courage needed to light the candle.
Far from being the frightening monster it is often portrayed as in Western culture; the archetype of death can be a friend and a guide. “If you learn not to be afraid of your death, then you realize that you do not need to fear anything else either.”2 Reimagined this way, death becomes a messenger who brings many gifts, including courage, a higher perspective, increased awareness, greater authenticity, and deeper love for ourselves and others. Thus, whether or not the psyche continues to exist after death, we will be able to face death as “a meeting with a life-long friend from the deepest side of [our] own nature,”2 secure in the knowledge that our lives have been well-lived.
Jung, C. G. “The soul and death.” In Feifel, H. (1959). The meaning of death. New York: Blakiston Division, McGraw-Hill.
O’Donohue, J. (2004). Anam ċara: A book of Celtic wisdom. New York: Harper Perennial.
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
– C. G. Jung
While Carl Jung was mentioned briefly in my undergraduate psychology courses, my first real contact with Jung’s theories came many years after that. In 2014, I began seeing an acupuncturist for help with fatigue, depression, and anxiety. During the course of my treatment, the acupuncturist recommended that I read The Highly Sensitive Person, by psychologist Elaine Aron. According to Aron, highly sensitive people (HSPs) are the 15-20 percent of individuals in a population who have a nervous system that is more sensitive to stimulation than average.1 I strongly related to the information in the book and finally felt like my experiences of being “easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long”1 made sense. This book cited Jung frequently, especially with regard to his ideas on introversion. Upon finding very little research related to the HSP trait, Aron “thought that the closest topic might be introversion. The psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote very wisely on the subject, calling it a tendency to turn inward. The work of Jung, himself an HSP, has been a major help to me.”1 The many mentions of Jung throughout the book intrigued me and I wondered if his work could be of help to me as well.
I began reading bits and pieces of Jung’s work that were available on the internet, along with commentary by depth oriented therapists and psychologists to provide clarity on aspects of it I was confused by. I also enjoyed watching videos and lectures about Jung on YouTube. I found that Jung’s work, especially his ideas on psychological types, helped me to understand and make peace with my own experiences, particularly those around being an intuitive introvert who never “fit in” with most of the people around me. It was absolutely my experience that “the introverted person must assume a good deal of chronic psychological stress”3 in order to adapt to an environment where extraversion is preferred. This further explained the fatigue, depression, and anxiety I had suffered from for so long. After reading Jung, I began to feel more at peace with my natural temperament and no longer felt the need to pretend to be otherwise. As I accepted myself, my physical and psychological symptoms gradually diminished. For me, Jung made being an introvert acceptable and even valuable; rather than a deficiency in my personality, which is how I had previously viewed this trait.
I deepened my study of Jung by reading Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I often found myself laughing aloud as I related to Jung’s childhood experiences, particularly where he described his boredom with school: “It took up far too much time which I would rather have spent drawing battles and playing with fire. Divinity classes were unspeakably dull, and I felt a downright fear of the mathematics class.”2 In Jung, I felt I had found a kindred spirit after spending most of my life feeling lost in a deep, painful sense of aloneness.
I am grateful for the many ways Jung’s work has influenced my life for the better. Through his writing I became able to look within my own heart, wake up to who I truly am, and began to accept myself. As a result of this turning inward, I also found the sense of purpose that I had always lacked, and began the transition from an empty, dead-end career path to one I find fascinating and meaningful. I will continue to turn to Jung’s work as part of my studies to become a psychotherapist.
When Theresa Holleran was in her early thirties, she read the Pregnant Virgin: AProcess of Psychological Transformation, and discovered the work of Jungian Analyst, Marion Woodman. Her dream world and creativity was profoundly enlivened with new images and inspirations. In her twenties she had been an activist in the Women’s Movement, and had awakened to the possibility of living her own free life, despite the gender conditioning she received from the nuns during her Catholic education. But she knew intuitively there was something more to this path of authenticity. Marion’s work illuminated the “Sacred Inner Marriage”- the realization that every man and woman, regardless of gender identity or sexual preference, could discover and fully live the Conscious Feminine and Masculine energies. This is a revelation that has framed her inner work and her clinical practice and teaching for over 30 years.
“Carl Jung believed there are opposites in the psyche that must to be integrated in order for us to fully individuate: feminine/masculine, human/divine, conscious/unconscious,” Holleran said. “They are integrated by realizing that we must “hold” this tension of opposites, resisting our tendency to deny or push away one part of the polarity. The well-lived life is going to be filled with paradoxes and contradictions,” she said. Essentially, the Conscious Feminine is our “Being-ness”, our ability to stand for and live our deepest values. The Masculine is the consort of the Feminine, our ability to “Do” and allows us to take action based on what is authentic and true for each of us. Hopefully, this dance of the Feminine and Masculine will guide us as we make the most difficult and complex decisions for ourselves and the well being of all on this planet.
Learning from our projections
“There is an innate longing in every human being to connect with “Other,” Holleran said. “Sometimes we’re longing for a lover relationship, sometimes the “Other” is that connection with the Divine, or our own creativity. Often we project god or goddess onto our romantic relationships.” She gave the example of being a young woman who often fell in love with men who were adventurous world-travelers, noting that this was an invitation to develop those adventurous qualities within herself. “These projections, whether they are positive or negative on the “Other” can be really useful if we work with them. Projections point the way to what wants to be developed or integrated within us, including those shadow aspects that we disdain.”
Then we are free to see the reality of “Who” the other really is and make a conscious choice to stay or go. Integrating projections is hard, rigorous work, but the benefits are enormous. We not only become more empathetic toward others, we also regain the energy to live our own life. For a woman this might mean she has a right to go after and claim the life she wants, even though she may be scared out of her mind; and for a man it might mean that he has the right to be tender towards himself, to feel his own grief, to feel his own longing. We become comfortable in our own skin, and our capacity to listen deepens. One becomes so grounded in their own body and authentic truth, that they can fully take in the truth of the Other, and then discover if there is a shift in perspective. Often we try to tyrannize each other into agreement because we are afraid of loosing our own stance. The Inner Marriage provides a whole new way of listening to and receiving one another.
The same integration of masculine and feminine energies that supports our personal relationships can also assist us in creative work. “Artists usually create from the feminine principle of letting things emerge, being present, being in the flow,” Holleran said. “But to bring your work into the world, you have to have masculine strength.”
Curiosity and compassion
How then, can we facilitate this type of integration within ourselves? “Notice the men and women you really admire and study what it is about these people that you’re drawn to,” Holleran suggested. “Sense who they are, their being-ness, their authenticity, what they value, and their capacity to take action without polarizing.” She also noted active imagination with dream figures, mirroring oneself in a journal, and looking for information within relationship disturbances and communication difficulties as opportunities for greater integration. “Curiosity and compassion towards self and other are necessary meta-skills,” she said. “Being curious and compassionate about what you’re drawn to, and what you’re repulsed by. These observations can all be the compost for discovering more about yourself and your own inner marriage.”
The integration between such opposites as the Feminine and Masculine is necessary in order to appreciate both ends of the polarity and bring greater balance and wholeness into our lives. If we don’t bring these polarities into consciousness, they will be projected out and can become distorted, or even demonic. Look at the polarization and demonizing of “other” that is happening in our own country right now!
Her upcoming presentation will offer an opportunity for this type of inner work and creative community exploration. “Through sharing stories, laughter, wisdom, creative images and our wild and wonderful longings and disturbances, we will all discover something about how this dance of feminine and masculine lives in each of us.”
Don’t miss this soulful evening with Theresa Holleran!
Date: Thursday, March 9, 2017
Time: 7:00 – 9:00pm, with mingling before and after
Location: Salt Air Room at the U of U
200 S Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112
Cost: Donation appreciated, everyone welcome
“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.
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.2Dreams 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.