Part II: Psyche as Image by Nora Swan-Foster

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Tree Mandala

C. G. Jung’s personal life, research and work as an analyst revolved around the healing power of symbols. He reminds us that symbols are “something partially unknown” and, while they can be personally deeply meaningful, they also connect us to the archetypal and the collective unconscious. As images they attract, organize, hold and carry the psychic energy, mentioned in Part I: Psychic Energy, and provide a visual portal through which the archetype can be known to us while also influencing the direction of energy in the psyche. Symbols are not created artificially but emerge out of the collective unconscious as the best description of something that is not yet understandable by the current condition of our conscious psyche. We invest our psychic energy into the symbol, through investigation and interpretation, so that we might better understand the personal meaning it holds for us, however the symbol will never fully become known to us. This purposive psychic energy of engaging with the symbol opens us to the mystery and transpersonal quality of our psyche and the world around us.

When I started the mandala above, I did not have a clear image of drawing a tree in the night. Instead, it was a process of choosing colors and engaging with the lines and shapes that eventually brought about this final image, which carries both a personal understanding as well as symbolic archetypal meaning. The magic of the image is that it continues to remain partially unknown and numinous to me with its archetypal dimensions that suggest the Norse tree “Yggdrasil” or the anima mundi (the tree of the world).

Supporting this process is the numinous but powerful presence of the Self, an ordering archetype that serves as the center of psychic awareness and transcends ego consciousness. Jung noticed that one particular image of the Self is the circle, a universal and cross-cultural symbol of wholeness. The Self supplies energy to consciousness throughout a life-time by way of such expressions as dreams, imaginations, spiritual awakenings, or synchronicities. When the Self is invested with energy it expresses a preoccupation with the inner subjective life, a relationship that, if it is well differentiated, reflects the value given towards the health of the psyche as a whole. The tension of the opposites is supported by energy from the Self and the longer this tension is held, the more likely a reconciliation can be found through the transcendent symbol that can arise from this tension. In analysis and active imagination our ego allows a more conscious relationship with the Self, expanding its tolerance to give way to the supreme role of the Self. In other words, a relationship develops between the ego and the Self, (ego/Self axis) and over time is strengthened. The energy of the Self can also be found in individuals who seek a greater purpose (illustrated in the development of culture). These individuals will say they are “supported by something larger than myself.”  The energy of the Self inspires the natural desire for transformation, which is expressed through symbol formation. In other words, psychic energy can be witnessed through the projection of the mental and spiritual interests that influence our world. In other words, images become expressions of psychic energy.

Jung called the underlying energetic driving force for consciousness the Individuation process. It is a term we use without much thought about where it came from when we are discussing adult development. Jung chose this term probably because it offers an archetypal image for wholeness. The energy for individuation could be imagined as the sea with tides that come and go, day after day, changing and adjusting our psychological landscape over years so that we are tempered and molded by life’s challenges that awaken us to our unique and imperfect humanity. Although not much was understood about neuroscience, Jung intuitively understood the power of the image on transforming the psyche and supporting the individuation process through the use of imagination.

Fueling this ongoing process of individuation is also the tension of the opposites and the continuous flow of psychic energy. In other words, individuation suggests the underlying energetic process of psychological development that comes by way of engaging with a symbolic life, which often requires stepping out of the collective stream. We can fail at this process if we relate to the collective world from a superficial level, leaving our conflicts unresolved and our symbolic nature undeveloped. Individuation suggests a progressive and purposive use of psychic energy. In the first half of life, the energy of the psyche is predominately expressed through achievements of the ego, while at mid-life the energy shifts and the ego must relinquish some of the energy so that the Self and individuation can be more consciously incorporated into the psyche. Through the use of images and symbols, the individuation process expresses and captures the ineffable nature of psychic energy that is inherently in service of a spiritual quest for wholeness throughout our life.