Jungian Psychology and Becoming Whole

Carl Jung called it the individuation process. Through the lens of shamanism it is called soul integration. I see Jungian psychology as the western european reinterpretation of the indigenous practice of soul retrieval, where the healer of the tribe would travel into non-physical dimensions (the names of these dimensions vary from tribe to tribe) of the sick person, retrieve fragmented soul parts that fled during trauma, and return these parts to the individual in present time, making them more whole.

In Jungian psychology, the unconscious would be the name of this other, non-physical dimension. The shaman would be the psychotherapist. The soul parts would be aspects of the Self tossed into the shadow, as well as archetypes living in the collective unconscious. Bringing these aspects of self and archetypes to conscious awareness through active imagination, dream interpretation, creative expression, etc, would be akin to the shaman retrieving the soul parts for the individual and breathing them back into the heart through the process of spiritual journeying and ceremony.

This correlation is my humble opinion. I have not studied up on this correlation and perhaps much has already been written. I am reflecting upon my personal thoughts from my own personal experience. I have had soul parts retrieved by a shaman and I immersed in the shamanistic healing lens for a number of years in the early 2000’s. I retrieved my own soul parts after a time as I desired to do the work on myself, straying from the tradtional path.

I need to mention that this was a western civilization’s appropriated version of shamanism I immersed in. Although this appropriation was rooted in loving intention to bring authentic healing to others, I acknowledge it is far different than if I were to study with an indigenous tribe and experience the true original essence of the practice…and even then, I would still be a westerner entering a culture not my own.

Jung used the metaphor of shadow and light to refer to the conscious and unconscious and turned the spiritual concept of soul into the psychological concept of the Self. Jung translated the earth-based spiritual into the psychological in a society that devalued and oppressed the indigenous soul, pushing this aspect of our human nature into the shadow (this is the Tricker archetype of which I will save for another blog) in favor of western, masculine dominant civilization (again, another blog for this mammoth topic). Although he had his own battles with devaluing the feminine (his own shadow), I am thankful for his work, his words, and his translation that allowed the earth-based feminine wisdom to survive in a cloaked western masculine form. Again, this is all my humble opinion and I too, have my shadow.

The soul journey is filled with the light-experiences of security, pleasure, belonging, connection, health and well-being. The soul journey is also filled with the shadow-experiences of insecurity, pain, loneliness, illness, abuse, loss and separation. We are each unique and yet we share in common the nature of the soul journey which is filled with shadow and light experiences.

The ratio of shadow to light experience is different for everyone. Why? I find it valuable to not ask why. Asking why puts a narrative around the happening that produces suffering that stems from comparing. Sure, you can say it is karma, or law of attraction…but what if you didn’t make a reason that put control in the individual for causing the ratio? What if nature simply produces a variety at random?

What if karma is not about how much pain we endure but more about how we handle it? What if the more we learn to handle shadow experiences with self-awareness, love, and acceptance the less we create some shadow experiences that stem from self creation (such as relationship conflict and self-sabotage)…yet the more we are able to metabolize and grow from shadow experiences that we do not cause (loss, abuse, oppression, death)?  Questions to think about (and again, another blog topic). Back to shadow and light reflection…

We also contain light and shadow aspects within the Self. The light is what we are aware of and the shadow is what we are not aware of. The light is the conscious self, or ego. The shadow is the unconscious, which has a personal and collective level. Think of it like an iceberg. The ego is the small tip of the iceberg rising out of the sea. The personal unconscious is the large expanse of the iceberg submerged under water and the collective unconscious is the depth of the sea itself.

What we (and others) approve of about the self is expressed as our conscious self or ego. What we are ashamed of and judge about the self hides in the shadow of the personal unconscious. Painful feelings, traumatic experiences, and the wounds we carry may also get relegated into the personal shadow. Some of us have consciously over-identified with our wounds, traumatic events, low self-esteem and self-worth, causing a healthy and positive sense of self to live in the personal shadow. It’s different for everybody.

When the self becomes too divided, suffering results in a variety of ways. The ego projects onto others what hides in the shadow. This happens in personal relationships and collectively. When we do not own our own shadow material, we blame others for in relationship. Our inner division is reflected in relationship division. Feelings stemming from unprocessed complex trauma, abuse, or hurt relegated into the shadow can morph into physical and mental illness. Addiction may result as a way to continue avoiding the painful feelings and wounds living in the unconscious. We may relegate our spiritual connection or soul-self into the shadow and on an ego level, always find the need to compete and prove ourselves due to being so disconnected from essence. 

The collective shadow contains who we are systemically. All of us are deeply connected to our family system. We inherit multi-generational wounds, character traits and behavioral patterns through the bloodline from our ancestors and immediate family that live in the collective shadow and may be unconsciously creating chronic issues in our lives. For instance, A great great great grandmother’s anger from being oppressed and abused may be passed down from generation to generation as a character trait of being easily enraged for the smallest of reasons. This rage may cause conflict and reoccurring issues in each new woman born into the bloodline. 

The instinctual human drives we all share in common as a human species also live in the collective unconscious and are called, archetypes. These collective instincts are invisible and so the archetype is like a pictorial costume the instinct wears so that the conscious self can be aware of it.  The drive to live, love, belong, sexually connect, succeed, make meaning, spiritually commune, create, mother, father, etc…are the archetypal instincts. For instance, if you suddenly feel a strong urge to have a baby, it is the mother archetype connecting to your conscious self, asking for embodiment. If you suddenly know you must become a healer, it is the healer archetype connecting to your conscious self.

If an archetype over-powers, it may cause suffering, illness, and imbalance. A good example of this would be an insecure and outcasted young man who suddenly becomes driven by the spiritual teacher (hierophant) archetype. If he finds a sense of empowerment from this archetype he may lose himself in it and become evangelistic and dogmatic as he mistakes connection with power when developing a following of students.

An archetype may also be stunted. For instance, if the artist archetype connects to the ego of a woman who suddenly feels the need to create, but she doesn’t express it due to being too busy with work, she may turn toward excess eating or drinking to release the pressure of the artist archetype building up in her belly as creative fire and passion. 

The archetypes are mysterious. They tend to wake up and connect to our conscious self of their own accord, having their own consciousness. Jung tended to see them as sentient unconscious forces that possess the ego. The god and goddess pantheons may be seen as archetypes. They can make us feel more connected, inspired, alive, and whole, when we embrace them in a balanced way. For instance, if an isolated and lonely young woman suddenly connects with Venus, the archetype of feminine love, she may experience her female sensuality and open her heart, attracting in a romantic partner.

One of my teachers warned us about the archetypes, due to their nature being collective, they are impersonal and do not care for our personal lives. Hence, we have to learn how to say no to them sometimes, if it isn’t in our best interest to work with them. For instance, the warrior archetype may connect to the ego of a woman who is always fighting, when she needs to find more softness and love in her life. In this case, it would be best for her to not give in to the sudden desires to fight in certain situations.

I am only touching upon this topic and feel this blog is already growing too long. I would like to wrap it up with a few words about the healing process…

Transformative healing naturally happens when we illuminate unconscious shadow aspects with conscious awareness by giving acknowledgment, honor, and expression to these parts. The healing for the conscious self is through gaining awareness, understanding, and expressing what is in the personal shadow. The healing for the unconscious is when we give conscious embodiment to the archetypes through creative expression, ritual and ceremony.

When the unconscious and conscious find one another through these means, the healing takes place of its own accord. I can say from personal experience, when I become aware of what is in my shadow, I gain a sense of humor about it and it doesn’t seem like a big deal after I express the initial shame, embarrassment, or fear that was keeping the deeper feeling or aspects of Self in the shadow. I have also experienced more wholeness and fulfillment by allowing certain archetypes to have creative expression in my daily life. 

I find it very useful to allow the ego to feel all the uncomfortable feelings (shame, sorrow, anger, humiliation, etc) with radical acceptance in order to do this integration work. When all the parts of self begin to connect, being who we are feels right and flows, no matter what the experience, be it shadow or light. 

Integration of the shadow and light allows the Self to become more whole and balanced. In essence, we piece ourselves back together with wisdom, love and creativity, turning suffering into gold. Narrating the “story of me” is meant to be a creative process and determines our internal experience. Like the clam turning mud into a pearl, the pain we have been through may become the fodder for transformation and healing.