THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Summer 2000)
One way to understand the roots of Jungian psychology is through its connection to the symbolic language of the human psyche as particularly manifested in our dreams. Each night as we sleep the psyche imparts its own unique, though usually perplexing form of wisdom. Often it takes time and careful attention to mind its gold.
The world’s myths, fairy tales, and legends are another source of our knowledge of the depths of the human soul and the dramas played out there. Knowledge of these stories can help us perceive the psychological struggles of modern individuals. They are our collective “dreams,” and are usually quite applicable to broad categories of people and to many of the struggles within the human personality.
A good example is the story of the Exodus, which depicts a group of people who must leave a place that has become familiar to them. They must move on to another setting that offers more promise since it is more deeply connected to who these people really are. This story is most often retold in the spring, as it represents an important depiction of the renewal of the human spirit. Often this Biblical narrative can be most helpful in illuminating the struggles of individuals in therapy, putting a uniquely painful and unintelligible situation into a broader context that offers meaning.
The people of Israel had to go to Egypt in order to avoid a drought; this was their best alternative at the time and life saving. Many people today find themselves in similar situations; an adaptation is made that is absolutely critical for their survival at a certain point in their life. But eventually at some later time in their existence, living within the parameters of previous choices keeps them from fulfillment of their fullest potential. However, it is not easy to give up the old routine, even if it now proves to be painful and unsatisfactory. Even as the strongest aspect of the Self—represented by Moses—pushes to move forward, fear of the unknown and comfort with the familiar, prove a heavy burden. What is worse, many people have an internal tyrannical part, represented by Pharaoh in this story, that rages at any change, and will do all that it can to keep things from getting better, chiefly because the “Pharaoh” part would no longer be in control.
It is amazing to see in clinical work how many people today struggle internally with a situation very similar to the one in this story. Connecting one’s personal life journey to such an important tale offers a unique kind of spiritual comfort and companionship; one is not quite so alone. Knowing one’s life journey has archetypal roots offers some sense that others might have experienced the same struggle on some level and had to work through similar feelings.
Editor: Steve Galipeau