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The Archetype of the Self
The symbols of the Self are a ring; a square or square area; a great tree; Christ or other major holy figure such as Krishna or Buddha; a shining thing, being or animal; a talking animal; a strange stone or rock; symbols like the cross or mandala; a round table; God; a guru; an elephant; a crowned or shining snake.
Our conscious self or ego is only a tiny part of our totality, as is obvious when we consider how much of our memory or experience we can hold in mind at any one time. The Self, as defined by Jung, is both what we are consciously aware of, and the massive experience and potential remaining unconscious. That potential is not simply our own personal memories, but also areas of possibility beyond what we usually think of as our personal self. The Self has no known boundaries, for we do not yet know the end of what the mind is capable of, or what consciousness is, or touches, out of sight of waking.
Modern physics is making it clear to us that our concepts and words are simply our own definition of our surrounding or inner reality that is always infinitely more than the definition. A piece of our fingernail for instance, might be thought of as a part of your personal body, a little bit of yourself. It can also be examined as a product of long evolutionary and genetic processes. Another point of view on it would be its molecular and atomic structure, and even the events of its sub-atomic processes. From there you could even begin to see it as part of a cosmic process, its substance being interwoven with the substance of the stars, and the processes of our solar system and beyond – and so on. This escalation of viewpoints applies just as well to any part of us – our brain and mind also.
The mass of experience and potential which lies behind our waking awareness is like an inner factor that, apart from expressing precise information in the form of remembered facts and events, can act as a huge reference base if we listen, through intuition, feeling states, dreams or visions. When we meet this inner potential or healing principle, we may have a powerful experience of meeting Christ, Buddha, Krishna or God, or any number of figures with great powers. Gradually our meetings go beyond form and cultural imagery into a direct awareness of existing throughout all time and space; of involvement in all living and inanimate things. Dante, in his great poem The Divine comedy, describes his experience of this by saying, “I saw within Its depth how It conceives all things in a single volume bound by Love, of which the universe is the scattered leaves; substance, accident, and their relation so fused that all I say could do no more than yield a glimpse of that bright revelation.”
To glimpse that revelation of the core of self, that is at the same time the core of all existence, is to be pervaded by something you can never grasp and hold. It forever flickers and changes, yet at the same time is changeless. Dante says of this, “As I grew worthier to see, the more I looked, the more unchanging semblance appeared to change with every change in me.”
This involvement is not in the end a mystical experience, it is the recognition, sometimes with awe, sometimes with shock, of an existing reality. It is so much a part of everyday life we fail to see it – as perhaps the fish might not know it lived in water. For instance, none of us grow all our food, make our own clothes or their material, produce the energy or gas or electricity in our homes – neither do any of us form the language we exist within and which forms the very structure and self awareness we identify with as ourselves. We exist constantly as an integral and dependent part of this huge web of interactions; we cannot exist outside of it or without it – yet we may fail constantly to hold our integral existence in awareness. We may never see we are part of ONE huge organism. Dreams frequently depict this situation with such symbols as the sea, or symbols of the Self.
In short, the Self is the totality of our being, and any symbol of it within our dreams depicts some level of awareness of, and therefore contact with or communication with, our totality.
Below are some examples of the Self in dreams.
Example: ‘I am climbing a tree to get a stone. This stone has special powers that flower. I’m nearly there when I look down and notice that there aren’t any branches on the left side of the tree. This causes me to consider the possibility of falling and that in turn leads to a fear of climbing any higher. I wake with my heart beating strongly, but little feeling of fear.’ Alan J.
Example: I am standing in the toilet peeing into the water. This creates lots of bubbles. As I look at these bubbles I notice each one has an eye looking at me. Fascinated I bend lower to look back at these eyes. When I do so I see they are not ‘eyes’ but ‘I’s’. Each is a tiny reflection of myself looking back at me. Amused I ponder this multitude of me. Each tiny being, with its own individual sense of self, its own eyes and legs and fingers, feels it is separate from its fellows – and it is. But what they don’t realise is that their awareness, their consciousness is a reflection of me. I am their god. Out of me all have their being. Then suddenly I realise I am myself a bubble. I too have a sense of being independent, with my own eyes, fingers and legs. Yet in reality I am only a reflection of one great life – One Self existent in all diversity and multifarious forms. I felt afraid. Tony.
Example: ‘I look into the third square, it was filled with an iridescent blue colour, shining and beautiful to look at, a beautiful substance. I felt it had to do with religion, but I couldn’t quite grasp it.’ Hyone C.
Example: I watched an insect emerging from what appeared to be its chrysalis – shaped a little like a mermaid’s purse. As it emerged it was vibrant with life, movement and colour. In fact it shifted its shape so quickly I was amazed at how it moved in and out of shapes as it adjusted to its final form. It had a beautiful gold barred design on its back, like a symbol – perhaps a bit like one of the zodiacal symbols. I watched another insect doing the same thing, and began to realise how life was bursting forth in the garden. Looking up in the hedge I noticed a large pod expanding on top of a stalk. Its was visibly getting larger, like a balloon. Suddenly it opened, forming many stalks with leaves and small rose like buds. Another pod was doing the same. As I watched I noticed a young woman nearby. I called to her to witness this extraordinary explosion of growth and life – a dynamic extravagant springtime of activity. She didn’t appear to really see. I was very moved though, and stood leaning against what felt like a wall, perhaps the wall of a house, and wept at the beauty. I started to restrain my emotions, as the woman did not share them, but then thought I wouldn’t hold back because of her. Andrew.
What leads Andrew to weep is his sense of the profound wonder of the formless reality that underlies the vast ever changing world of phenomena.
The only difference was these dancing people weren’t opening to the sacred, to the spirit. So I stepped into the dance area and opened to the spirit. As I did so a most wonderful and extraordinary thing happened to me. I was taken up into the spirit, literally lifted off my feet high into the air and held there by the power and glory of what was happening. Then, still in the air, my body was spun like a top, and at the same time in a circle, until an enormous energy was built up. This energy then flashed down upon the people, entering their body and soul in a transforming way. The feeling of glory and wonder was enormous. I could see this energy, this sacred power flowing down as other people entered this condition, and I saw the transformation of people’s lives, and the change entering into the way they lived, even into the way people were farming their land. I knew that the time of quickening was upon us. But I was one of many who were receiving this power and allowing it to flow into the lives of others.
Here is a very different description of meeting the Self, also from a man’s dream.
In the dream I met my “teacher”. It was a powerful meeting of two men who respected each other. I met him because of my own independence. I recognised his greatness because of my own success and craft in life. Then I was a teacher among disciples. There were only about six. They were all capable and mature adults who were my pupils because they loved and respected me. They gave me great and practical support. One of them, a woman, came to me and said that if I ever needed to be held, I need only go to her.
In exploring the dream I uncovered a lot of emotion. I felt Christ was the teacher I met. The dream expresses qualities of Christ I had never seen clearly before. Namely that Christ is so many-sided. Christ is approachable or open to children – to fishermen – to scholars – to women in love – to the sick – to businessmen.
Also, Christ is understandable by a child. As a child one feels as if Christ is a friend who is just a few steps ahead of oneself, showing the way. But as one grows, Christ is always there, just a few steps ahead. What a wonder that is. Thank goodness there is always that presence beyond one’s best, gently calling us on to greater humanity, greater humility, greater craftsmanship in life.
But contact with the Self can be in so many forms. Here is another one.
Now a most extraordinary thing happened. I experience feelings of being made love to, but not through the genitals, but through my head right the way through my being down into my genitals. For a long time it felt as if I didn’t need to breathe, and in fact I seemed to exist without breathing for quite a long time. There was a feeling of tremendous quietness. Inside something gently moving through the openness in my head down my being, flowing to my genitals. Once there it was like it opened something. It changed something. Then, gradually, that influence of change started moving up my being. I could feel it particularly touch and change things in places like my solar plexus and my heart. When it reached my throat I could feel it tickling and opening something there. It really felt painful as it went through these places, particularly as it reached into my head. It wasn’t a physical pain, but it felt as if something deep inside me was being stretched and opened, and that stretching was painful at a subtle level. I cried out in the pain. I wept. I cried out in pleasure – the mixture of pleasure and pain, just as if I were being made love to in a wonderful and delicate and yet painful way. As it touched and passed through my head I cried out, “Why? Why?”
And here again, a real experience.
Then it was one feather tied to a twig by piece of wool, blowing in the wind – a feather blowing in the wind. This was very stable and persistent in the fantasy. Everything resolved back to the feather blowing in the wind. It seemed like a Red Indian symbol, perhaps tied to the suspended body of the dead, but I could not understand.
Then it came to me that I had to listen in deep stillness – not think, not seek to understand, not struggle, just listen. My whole being entered into silence, gently listening as one might listen to the rain falling on a lake. Then suddenly it was known – the feather blowing in the wind – the sound of one hand clapping – the essence of human existence. Open against the sky – emptiness – enormity.
This was truly an experience of enlightenment. All cares, all pain fell away from me. I had an incredible sense of freedom such as I had never experience before. Every moment of every day we were free – free to choose – free to create pain or peace – free to go or stay – free to live or die. This extraordinary experience of freedom, and of the dropping away of normal perceptions, lasted for three days. Everything looked different. I don’t mean it felt different. I mean it looked different. I remember seeing a bird flying across the sky and it was simply Bird. Maybe even that isn’t true. It was simply what it is without any name.
And here is a magic contact:
I had struggled so long to find a realistic experience of God. After years of effort, meditation and discipline I realised that I didn’t know what to do. So I sat every day without any direction or effort and waited. I did this for an hour each day. I felt that if there is any real thing it would be like me waiting on a street corner for a friend to come. If he or she came I would feel a touch on my shoulder and would know it for real, and not as a sort of imaginary or emotional thing.
Then one evening I had got out of bed to go to the toilet, and just as I was approaching my bed to get back in I heard a voice very clearly saying, “You have asked what are the results of God’s activity upon one – now watch closely.” Within days I was led into a direct experience of that touch. It was a very powerful experience of the spirit cleansing me and growing me toward the stature we can all attain, and it carried on week after week. It was like an initiation into the Mother Church – an experience of where all beliefs have sprung from.
Awareness of the Self is important. It contains what is our own personal wisdom and insight regarding life in general and particular. It is not full of creeds and dogmas and conflict as are organised attempts to express the spiritual. But it does have its dark side. To grasp the stone with special powers; understand the significance of the iridescent blue square; or realise we are a bubble, as these dreams depict, we need a clear rational mind which allows intuition and feeling but is not relinquished or lost in the immensity of the Self. Touching the vastness of our being we may ourselves feel vast, all knowing, a guru, the great world leader, Christ or Buddha. In this state Jung says a person may lose all sense of humour and drop ordinary human contacts. One is then lost in the archetype, possessed by it in some degree.
Negative relations with this archetype might be that as a defence against meeting our pain and childhood trauma as we enter this vast storehouse of our being. As a way of escaping the self responsibility for our difficult human condition we might fly off into feelings of loving all things, of knowing the mystery of it all, of being the Buddha. The problem is that while it might be true we are in essence the Christ, or have wisdom, these realisations are distorted by the undealt with childhood traumas and longings. See: aura; first example under archetypes; compensation theory; mandala; ring; spiritual life in dreams; yoga and dreams.
Useful Questions and Hints:
In what way have I ever touched this wonder that underlies all things?
Have I ever opened myself to its possibility, or am I locked into the prevalent belief system that sees the body as the only reality?
Do I still see Christ or Buddha as belonging to particular organisations or dogmas, or have I moved to realising they are more than that, and represent the core of myself?