Coming Home to Your Self: Depth Psychology and Living the Symbolic Life by Bonnie Bright
As spiritual beings having a human experience, each of us longs for meaning. “Humans are living stories, each imbued with an inherent message and a meaning trying to find its way into the world,” writes mythologist Michael Meade. However, without a sense of calling or capacity to live into the unique gifts we each possess, we can feel ourselves lost, alone, depressed, or despairing, not knowing how we belong in the world.
On the other hand, a depth psychological perspective provides a powerful vehicle to see and understand how we are profoundly interconnected with nature, the world around us, and with each other, making our “living stories” joyful and hopeful as we live into our calling and gifts here in the world. As we each turn our attention to myth, dreams, fairytales, and stories in every form—including books and movies—we begin to discern the stories we are already living, and to tune into the possibilities of enlarging upon or transforming them for our greater good.
My own “living story” took a dramatic turn toward meaning and fulfillment when I made the decision to pursue my Ph.D. in depth psychology at Pacifica. On that fateful day, I first walked into an information meeting about Pacifica in the Barrett Center, where a short film was already in progress. The narrator was just introducing Pacifica’s motto—animae mundi colendae gratie – which translates closely to “for the sake of tending soul in and of the world.” In that moment of soulful encounter, I experienced an overwhelming sense of emotion and the instant recognition that I had finally come home. It was a feeling of calling—a longing to learn how to use a depth psychological perspective to see beyond the surface of things; to gain insights I could use to live my life more fully in service to people and planet, and to help others do the same.
One of the founders of depth psychology, C. G. Jung, advocated a process of coming to consciousness and greater wholeness through self-realization—a process he termed “individuation.” “How are you fulfilling your life’s task (“mission”) . . . the meaning and purpose of your existence?” he queried. “This is the question of individuation.”
According to Jung, we each are a product of our Self, a vastly intelligent, unified, self-organizing entity whose overarching intelligence regulates and eternally inspires us to always go in the direction of growth toward integration, to achieve our ultimate potential—a coming home to ourselves. Jung believed that individuation is the unfolding of the Self’s plan for wholeness.
In fact, Jung summed the individuation process up quite simply, saying, “To the constantly reiterated question ‘What can I do?’ I know no other answer except ‘Become what you have always been, namely, the wholeness which we have lost in the midst of our civilized, conscious existence.’ ” He went on to add that this wholeness is something that “we always were without knowing it.”
On the journey of individuation, one way of making meaning is through the exploration of the personal, collective, and archetypal meaning of the numinous symbols that impact us in daily life—a process Jung (1964) called “symbolic thought.”
Jung posited that archetypes—autonomous instincts, patterns, or behaviors, which are common across all eras, peoples, and places—organize the contents of the unconscious and connect it to nature. The language of archetypes (and therefore of the unconscious) is manifest through symbols, which entice us with their numinous power to engage with them in a meaningful way to understand ourselves better and to achieve transformation and healing.
A symbol opens a portal to understanding ourselves and serves as a vehicle to navigate the deeper parts of the unconscious. Edward Edinger, a colleague of Jung’s, noted that to see the symbolic image behind a given symptom immediately transforms the experience.”
By taking symbolic experiences seriously, we “live the symbolic life,” suggests Jung. This perspective enables us to remember that we are both human and divine—that we are infinite beings in human bodies on a journey to awaken to our own wholeness and pure potentiality.
Shamanic cultures also seem to embrace the symbolic life. Because they view the world as ensouled, nature is inherently imbued with power. The synchronistic call of an owl or the flight of a crow may be considered portentous. In the mornings, tribes might gather to assess their nighttime dreams for guidance and direction. Myths and stories are passed down to help younger generations understand context and purpose. Future shamans undergo initiation through a process of shamanic illness, visions, or dismemberment, in order to be re-membered into their role as a shaman, and thus awakening to a new reality.
For those of us in modern western culture, when we are swept into distress, despair, frustration, anger, or a sense of separation, loss, or abandonment, it is because we have forgotten our divine nature and our place in relationship to the world soul. We have abandoned the symbolic life and take the things that happen to us far too personally or literally. In my role as a soul-centered coach, I guide my clients through challenges by looking at their lives from a symbolic, metaphoric, mythic, shamanic, and depth psychological perspective instead of a literal one. This kind of a depth psychological perspective helps us find our way to our own inherent gifts and calling.
This depth of experience, accessed and lived through symbol and story, can then be conveyed through writing, art, speaking, storytelling, theater, healing, coaching, consulting, therapy, parenting, caregiving, as well as love, empathy, and compassion in every form. These offerings become the foundation of our calling, each of us, when we engage a depth psychological lens to help heal ourselves, our planet, and people that we love.
In January, 2020, you are invited to renew your connection to the symbolic life by Coming Home to Pacifica in a unique 3-day event filled with symbolic, metaphoric, mythic, shamanic, and depth psychological perspectives. Attend in person at the Ladera campus in Santa Barbara, CA, for the opportunity to gather with likeminded others and engage in soulful conversations about character, creativity, and calling—or join via Zoom if you can’t attend live. Either way, you’ll have the opportunity to re-connect with the power of ritual, the meaning of myth and symbol, the joy of conscious community, and the beauty of the world soul.
“Our job is not to comprehend or control everything, but to learn which story we are in and which of the many things calling out in the world is calling to us,” notes Michael Meade. “Our job is to be fully alive in the life we have, to pick up the invisible thread of our own story and follow where it leads. Our job is to find the thread of our own dream and live it all the way to the end.”
That mandate begins with understanding from a depth psychological perspective what it means to live the symbolic life, and evolves, in turn, to knowing the truth of our calling in this world. Whenever we engage in a soulful way, our stories come to life, creating beautiful ripples that touch the lives of those around us, potentially sparking and igniting something new for them as well. Come home to yourself by engaging with soul!
To learn more or register for the annual Coming Home event January 17-19, 2020, visit http://www.cominghometopacifica.com
Bonnie Bright, Ph.D. holds M.A. degrees in Psychology from Sonoma State University, and in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, where she also completed her doctorate degree. She is a certified Archetypal Pattern Analyst™ and a certified Transpersonal Soul-Centered Coach. She uses archetypal and shamanic perspectives to help clients navigate spiritual awakening; to integrate breathwork, meditative, psychedelic, or other non-ordinary experiences; and to move through creative blockages and open their lives to joy and transcendence.
Bonnie is a member of IACTM—the International Association of Coaches, Therapists, & Mentors. She has trained extensively in dream work; in Holotropic Breathwork, a process developed by transpersonal pioneers, Stan and Christina Grof; and in the Enneagram, a psycho-spiritual personality map for transformation. Bonnie also completed a 2-year training in Indigenous African Spiritual Technologies with initiated African elder, Malidoma Somé, and has worked with indigenous shamans and healers in Africa, Europe, and in North and South America.
Bonnie created and served as the Executive Editor of Depth Insights™ scholarly journal for six years, and is the Founder and Director Emerita of Depth Psychology Alliance™, an online organization with over 5,500 members. She has taught Transpersonal psychology at Alef Trust, and has conducted over 100 audio and video interview/podcasts on depth psychology, and is the editor of Earth, Climate, Dreams: Dialogues with Depth Psychologists in the Age of the Anthropocene (2019), and Depth Psychology and the Digital Age (2016). Learn more at www.DepthInsights.com.