Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Psychotherapy and Instinct: Saving Our Inner Sled Dogs

February 15th, 2011 · animal nature, body, depth psychology, instinct, therapy, unconscious

There’s a story that relates to instinct and psychotherapy, and involving dogs, that has recently come out of Whistler B.C., a town that hosted part of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.  It’s a very sad story of the alleged mass killing in April of last year of nearly 100 sled dogs[WARNING: linked article contains descriptions of graphic, horrific violence] by a sled dog operator in the tourism industry.  The alleged callousness and brutality with which the dogs were purportedly liquidated  when no longer economically useful has sent waves of horrified disgust through British Columbia and Canada. It raises issues about being connected with our own human instinct that are important in psychotherapy.

The Bond with Dogs

I think that Canadians, Alaskans and other northern people often share a very strong bond to the traditional sled dog, and a very visceral revulsion at the thought that someone would treat them poorly, let alone kill them in such an allegedly wanton manner.

In Canada, a sled dog is a highly symbollic creature.  Such dogs and their role go far back in our psyche, millenia prior to the time of history in this country, when the European was not even a dream in the minds of the First Nations people of the North.  It is said that humans would have never made it across the Bering Strait land bridge to North America in the ice age, had it not been for the sled dog.

Something Ancient in the Heart

Human connection with dogs is unbelievably ancient: dogs are the first animals that humans ever domesticated.  The bond that humans feel with dogs is indissoluble.  I often find it both amusing and deeply moving to watch my neighbours walk their dogs up and down our street.  This relationship with, say, Sandy, my neighbour’s toy poodle, is only the most recent expression of something ancient in the hearts of both dogs and people, that stretches back into the depths of the Paleolithic era.

What is it that connects humans so powerfully to dogs?  What makes us feel such horror that dogs, sled dogs, in particular, could be treated in this manner?

Dog as Instinctual, Affiliative Life

From a Jungian symbolic perspective, animals, and dogs in particular, often symbolize the bodily and instinctual dimensions of human life.  While psychologists once discounted human instinct, viewing us as beings who come into this world as a “blank slate”, science now knows much better, thanks to developments in fields like attachment theory and evolutionary psychology.

And so, when they appear in our dreams, for instance, dogs can often symbolize our instinctual side.  This may relate to the sexual side of our bodily nature, but it more often relates to the basic need for affiliation and companionship that humans share with dogs, and that we see mirrored in them.

A relationship with a dog can teach a human — and particularly a human child — profound things about what it is to be accepted and loved.  The relationship between a figure like a trapper or a hunter, who used to work for long periods in isolation, with only dogs for company would be even more profound, especially when survival might depend on the instinct and strength of those dogs.

Here are some scenes from the wonderful film The Last Trapper, that evoke the symbollic power of the dog / human connection:

What would it mean for a human being to turn his or her back on this, to kill dogs for no reason other than that they have gotten in the way of reaping economic rewards?  What has to happen inside us to make us so turn our back on our own instinctual life?

These are questions I’ll look at in my next post, “Saving Our Inner Sled Dogs, Part 2”.

How Do You Relate to Your Inner Dogs — Your Instinctual Side?

How do you relate to your own instinctual side?   Where do you experience your own instincts?  Do you believe that there is a dimension of human beings that embodies a wisdom that is something other than rational?  How you experienced that dimension?  I would welcome any of your comments or reflections.

Sometimes the journey of psychotherapy entails an individual returning to the sanity of their instinctual life.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

If you’d like to receive Vibrant Jung Thing regularly, please subscribe using the RSS feed in the upper right hand corner of this page.


PHOTO CREDIT:     Creative Commons  Some rights reserved by ronnie44052

VIDEO CREDIT:     “The Last Trapper”, Nicolas Vanier, Director © Copyright Christal Films

© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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In January, with Mind, Body, and Instinct

January 20th, 2011 · archetypal experience, archetypes, body, Carl Jung, consciousness, cravings, dreams, inner life, instinct, Jungian analysis, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, seasonal affective disorder, self-knowledge, The Self, unconscious, wholeness

This blog post, on our January mind set, and on mind, body and instinct, continues my last post, although it might look quite different.  My immediately previous post was centered around two quotations that painted pictures of the conscious and unconscious brains in relation to each other.  This post is much more directly concerned with the subjective experience of mind, body and instinct.  I include another quotation from Jung, speaking on primal “instinctual” humans and modern “rational” humans.  Jung’s prime concern here is the loss of human connection with nature — primal, fundamental human nature.

The holidays are over; spring is a long time off.  In the post-December winter months, it’s often easy to fall into a kind of robotic “just-gotta-get-through-it” mental state.  In my personal experience, it’s altogether too easy to just go to a kind of  place where we’re mentally divorced from our feelings, and we just stoically keep answering the “call of duty”, withour regard for the instinctual human we all carry within, and his or her needs.

The Instinct-Rationality Divide

Primitive man was much more governed by his instincts than his “rational” modern descendents. who have learned to “control” themselves.  In this civilizing process, we have increasingly divided our consciousness from the deeper instinctive strata of the human psyche, and even ultimately from the somatic [body] basis of psychic phenomena.  Fortunately, we have not lost these basic instinctive strata; they remain part of the unconscious, even though they may express themselves only in the form of dream images.

Jung, C.G., ed.,  Man and His Symbols, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964)

Modern humans can be very cut off from the instinctual basis of life, and even from being aware of our bodily existence.  In my experience, this can be particularly true when you’re bundled up, slogging down an ice-and-snow filled January street at -25 degrees with a high wind chill!

But, even so, as Jung was among the first to tell us, the instinctual side continues to function, along with the whole broad psychic processing of of inner and outer experience.  It’s always with us, and one important way to move closer to wholeness is to work actively to be aware of that.

Ways to Access the Instinctual Life Within You

Here are four questions to ask that can bring you nearer to the instincts and the life of your body.

1.  What is Your Body Telling You?

It is amazing the degree to which many modern people are completely oblivious to their bodies.  As a very simple step, what if you were to become aware of where in your body you carry tension, and when that tension appears?  If really thinking about this is something new to you, I think you would be amazed at the degree of awareness of your own psyche and your own instinctual self that can come to you through continually practicing this one simple step.

2.  Be Honest: How Do You Really Feel About That?

Of course, it’s just about the world’s oldest joke that therapists are always asking everyone, “Well, how do you really feel about that?”  But it can be so easy to drift into a place of non-awareness about your own feelings — particularly if you’re a personality type that leans heavily on thinking as opposed to feeling.  For such people (and I’m certainly a card carrying member of “Club Think”!) it can be a matter of great importance to be asking yourself continually, “Yes — but what am I feeling now?”

3.  What Do I Really Crave, Yearn for?  Why Do I Crave That?

Your cravings are important!  It may seem like a triviality in the midst of the great Project of Individuation to note that when I’m alone I experience a strong craving for Junior Mints, but don’t be too quick to assume that it’s irrelevant!  Try as much as you can to get into the question of “Yes, but why do I crave Junior Mints at such a time?”  Are they a distraction from the feelings, a self-medication?  Do they have symbollic importance in some ways — a connection with a happy, secure time in my life, for instance?  On the other hand, do the things I crave in some way or other symbollically embody spirit, or my deepest aspirations?

4.  What is Emerging in My Dreams?

And one very profound way in which instinctual life expresses itself is in dream images.  This is a big one for psychotherapists, and especially for Jungians, as we undergo a great deal of rigorous training in how to handle dream material.  I’ve written about this quite a bit, and you can expect me to write about it a lot more.  But we can certainly say here that the deepest aspects of ourselves, instinctual and otherwise, can be counted on to show up through our dreams — that aspect of ourselves that Jung sometimes referrd to as “The Two Million Year Old Man.”

What Are You Instinctually Disposed Towards?

Have you ever had times in your life where you have felt strongly that you were doing things by instinct? I’ve heard many stories that, for instance, mothers tell of getting through unbelievably difficult situations on the strength of their mothering instinct alone.   I’ve also heard of situations where something like raw instinct has led people at a certain point to make fundamental and life-changing decisions.  Indeed, I believe that I made such a change at one particular points in my life — that probably saved my life.  Has your instinct or your “animal side” ever moved you in directions that your intellect would have never thought of going?

I would be very interested to hear about your experiences: please leave a comment below, or if you prefer, send me an email!

Wishing you rich growth in your experience of all that you are, on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

If you’d like to receive Vibrant Jung Thing regularly, please subscribe using the RSS feed in the upper right hand corner of this page.


PHOTO CREDIT:  © Jokerproproduction |

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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