There are a handful of areas that strike me as of core importance in depth psychology. Jung certainly focused heavily on them, and even today they each have the potential to have tremendous impact on us as individuals and the collective.
The Imaginal. What Jung first called the unconscious also contains the imaginal realm, a term borrowed from French philosopher Henry Corbin. In contrast with imagination, the imaginal indicates a reality that is present in the same time and space as ordinary reality but usually invisible to us and best accessed through altered states of consciousness. Interpretation of symbols and symptoms is often done through active imagination, the practice of dialoging and interacting with symbols in the imaginal realm where they reside; through dream analysis, and through depth-oriented studies of a culture’s traditions, myths, and stories. Encounter with the imaginal generates rapture, awe, power, understanding, and ultimatelyundefinedtransformation. Hillman (1979) suggests actively engaging with symbolic images and energies by treating them as autonomous entities and entering their territory to engage in dialogue or allow a relationship to develop:
There are two ways of engaging with the symbolic, archetypal, and mythological forms that reside in the wild landscape of our unconscious. One is to encounter them as they emerge, grappling and wrestling with them in ordinary everyday reality, turning our gaze to their veiled faces and hooded eyes to see what mystery lies there. The other way, however, is ultimately an inevitable call to descend into the depths where the forms dwell, facing and interacting with them in their own turf, the mysterious inner territory of the underworld that supports and sustains themundefinedand us.
Culture. Because culture is riddled with symbolism and tradition, it deeply impacts every individual’s psyche, and thus, the two are not separate. Depth psychology respects the inherent nature of the individual, and also of each culture, extending its focus to include how individuals, groups, cultures, nations, and the planet are each affected by the multitude of ways in which they all interact. Diane Taylor referred to percepticide, the concept of numbness or a cutting-off of seeing in instances whereobserving something is more than we can bear. Robert J. Lifton identified this tendency as "psychic numbing" the idea that our modern, western ego represses, ignores, and numbs itself from engaging with inner and outer voices and images and movements that go beyond the mainstream consciousness (Shulman-Lorenz & Watkins, 2002). According to Chalquist (2009), Depth Psychology arose as the drive toward liberation manifest around the world, particularly in the twentieth century.
Nature. Many contemporary philosophers and writers have identified a split between humans and the world of nature, observing how we tend to separate ourselves into another category altogether, one based on progress and technology. We have long forgotten our inner nature, and our human nature. Jung insists:
Man feels isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had symbolic meaning for him. Thunder is no longer the voice of a god, nor is lightning his avenging missile. No river contains a spirit, no tree makes a man's life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom and no mountain still harbours a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants and animals. (Jung in Sabini, 2005, pp. 79-80)
Further, Jung says because we are so out of touch with that natural part of ourselves, the archaic human that experiences primordial images, the part of our psyche that has its roots in nature, we have suffered instinctual atrophy which leads to disorientation in everyday human situations (Jung in Sabini, 2005). By reconnecting with nature, both inner and outer, we can relocate ourselves within the greater tapestry of creation, taking a place in nature alongside our counterparts and developing increased understanding of our role in life.
Myth. The importance of symbol and metaphor in personal and cultural imagery is vital. Jung wrote, “Spirit is the inside of things and matter is their visible outer aspect” (in Sabini, p. 2). Since the psyche spontaneously generates mythico-religious symbolism, paying attention and listening is a vital part of noticing meaningful symbols as they emerge. Depth Psychology understands myth works as a repository of recurring situations, so recognizing a specific myth, the way it unfolds, and the meaning it holds for a particular individual can be vital for understanding contemporary events and situations (Chalquist, 2009). “The function of myth,” said Joseph Campbell, “is to pull you into accord with the rhythm of the universe.” (in McCarthy, 1988, p. 1). Campbell adhered to the idea that myth and ceremonial rites enable the mind to be in harmony with the body and the way of life to be in harmony with the way nature requires (Campbell & Moyers, 1991). According to Chalquist (2009):
All minds, all lives, are ultimately embedded in some sort of myth-making. Mythology is not a series of old explanations for natural events; it is rather the richness and wisdom of humanity played out in a wondrous symbolical storytelling. . . Personal symptoms, conflicts, and stucknesses contain a mythic or transpersonal/archetypal core that when interpreted can reintroduce the client to the meaning of his struggles.
Though we may experience each of these arenas on a more or less unconscious level in our daily lives, you're sure to discover most depth therapists and practitioners engage with them wholeheartedly in a very conscious way--and they'll help you to do the same as you begin to discover the underlying layers of psyche that make up the whole of who you really are.
Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world's first comprehensive online community for depth psychology and hosts a regular podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name.