Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Jungian Psychotherapy Symbol Book: A Personal Journey

November 23rd, 2010 · journey

The other night I watched the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” again.  It’s one of my great favourites, for any number of reasons: it’s the directors, the Coen Brothers, at their finest; I think it’s as funny as can be; the music is wonderful; the cast is as talented as it gets; and, it’s — loosely — based on one of the greatest works of the human poetic imagination, Homer’s Odyssey.  But the number one reason I appreciate this movie is that it’s based upon the symbol and myth of the journey, which is one of the greatest of all human archetypal patterns, and one that is of great importance for psychotherapy.

The Journey Symbol

Artistic and religious symbolism worldwide reflects the archetype of the journey.  It’s one of the most universal expressions of the human condition and development of the course of human life.  It is central to the Hebrew Bible (Exodus), the Christian Bible (journeys of St. Paul), Islam (the Haj) and countless other religious traditions.  A vast amount of literature, poety and art reflects this theme.  Jung himself, when he sought to characterize the two great movements in human life, referred to them, by using this symbol, as “the hero journey” and “the night sea journey”.

Destination

The whole point of a journey is that it has a destination.  In both the Odyssey and O Brother, Where Art Thou? , the whole process may seem chaotic, but the process is actually moving somewhere, toward a specific end — imaged as the journey home.  That is what the journey symbol conveys to us: if life is imaged as a journey, it is going somewhere.  It has a specific end.  Our lives are capable of having a meaningful direction, even if the present circumstances are completely disorienting.  This is a constant theme in human myth, and it embodies a psychological truth.  There is something in us that knows the way, even when our conscious ego does not.

This can be a very important thing to know in therapy, and in human life in general.  But it must be something other than a glib platitude.  Vague assurances that “it’s going to be OK” will acheive very little for suffering, struggling people.  What people need is assurance, as they struggle, often with very deep, dark things that may have surfaced in their lives.  They need to know that, out of real chaos, something meaningful and healing can emerge.  The real therapist is someone who can go with the client on her or his journey, who can be right with the client, because the therapist knows, in some way that is deeper than merely intellectual, that this process has an inner meaning in the end.

Just for fun, here’s the official trailer from O Brother, Where Art Thou?:

What About Your Journey?

Do you ever think about your life in terms of it being a journey?  Are there times when you’ve been particularly aware that it is a journey?  Have there been times when it really feels as if you’ve lost the way?  If you have, or you are, I would welcome hearing from you via  a comment or through a confidential email.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

1-905-337-3946

PHOTO CREDIT: © Holger Karius | Dreamstime.com

TRAILER CREDIT:  © 2000 Touchstone Pictures and Universal Studios.  This trailer is the property of Touchstone Pictures and Universal Studios and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Sarah Palin, “Mama Grizzlies” and the Mother Archetype

August 15th, 2010 · archetypal experience, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, mother archetype, parent-child interactions, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, symbolism, unconscious

Andrea Huffington commented recently  in the Huffington Post on Sarah Palin’s use of archetypal imageryin the political ads that she has recently run with incredible success online.  Huffington seeks to use the concepts of Jungian psychology to analyze Palin’s message.  In my opinion, it’s a fruitful approach.

The ads are remarkable for the fact that they do not discuss the political issues at all, presumably leaving it to the viewer to draw his or her conclusion about what the issues are that are under discussion.  What they in fact do is evoke the symbolism of the bear, and in particular the mother grizzly bear.  Palin at one point says,

“I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs… you don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!”

Huffington believes that Palin has unconsciously used images that are archetypal, and that, because of that, these images resonate with people powerfully on the unconscious level.  Certainly, “mother” is a powerful archetype, as is the symbol of the bear, which has possessed great meaning in human cultures throughout the world.  While Palin may have unconsciously hit upon this approach, historians can point to similar highly manipulative tactics used by propagandists throughout history.  Of course, the past masters of this kind of thing were the Naziis, particularly Hitler’s propanganda genius Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself.

Palin tells us, “Moms just kind of know when something’s wrong.”  Perhaps.  But it is important to distinguish between two very different aspects of the mother archetype, and how they might affect us.

Like all archetypes, the mother archetype has a negative and a positive pole.  That is, there are manifestations of the archetype that foster human growth and individuation, and there are manifestations that hinder or hobble such development.

The archetype can manifest as “positive mother”.  This happens, for instance, when a mother gives messages to her child that are affirming, and that give a sense of fundamental rightness to the child’s existence.  A child growing up with this kind of message and support from the mother may very well grow to have a lot of confidence in themselves, and in life.

At the other end of the spectrum is the negative mother, including “smother mother”.  This is the mother who undercuts the child fundamentally, and destroys the child’s confidence in what he or she is, his or her own powers, and in the goodness of life.

So this leaves us with the question of what kind of mother it is that Palin is evoking with her “Mama Grizzly” images.  Is this mother life-giving and empowering, or fundamentally undercutting, disempowering, and perhaps smothering?  Is Palin’s “mama grizzly” a mother who affirms individuality and uniqueness, or a mother trapped in standardized, stereotypical and ultimately mother roles?  What’s your view?

The archetype of the mother is indeed powerful, and I hope to explore the nature of positive and negative mother archetypes in future posts.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Johnbell | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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