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Living a Symbolic Life

The word psychology is made up of the words “psyche,” meaning soul, and “logos,” to study. One branch of psychology, depth psychology, explores the deeper parts of our experiences contained in the unconscious – a vast collection of thoughts and emotions that have been repressed and hidden from our awareness. To gain access to this part of us, we must venture into the depths of our soul.

The soul communicates using symbols and is in fact attempting to reconnect us to this deeper level on a regular basis. However, our disconnect from, and even the devaluing of soul messages deters receiving this information. As Jung noted, “[Humans are] in need of a symbolic life . . . we don’t have it . . . we have no time no place . . . Only a symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul.”

Living a symbolic life first requires one to be aware of how the soul speaks. Contents of the unconscious are revealed in dreams, impulses, body gestures, body symptoms, slips of the tongue, intense emotions, and metaphors.

According to archetypal psychologist James Hillman, “Soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences, … [and] the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy – that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.”

Soul has a purpose in that it demands our attention in order for growth and healing to occur. Author Thomas Moore noted that soul is not a thing but rather a dimension of experience and is related to depth, to substance, and to relationship to the world. He further stated that soul pathologizes: “It gets us into trouble. It interferes with the smooth running of life, it obstructs attempts to understand, and it seems to make relationships impossible.”

The soul speaks using a metaphoric, at times poetic and mythic, language of images. Thus, one needs to look at life’s events through an imaginal lens. The imaginal approach is not imagination – not fantasy – rather; it asks us to be open to a whole other realm of our existence – one outside the intellectual and so-called “real” world. This other world is of feelings and deeper meaning.

The soulful realm is experienced in various ways (e.g., dreams, bodywork, metaphor, etc.), as well as when we are touched by a sense of spirit, deep contentment or joy during prayer, meditation or while being in nature. When we feel ourselves emotionally stirred by a strong image from a film, writing, song or photo, we know it is from this other inner reality. Our soul has been touched.

Take time to be with your images and resonating experiences. Honour them by drawing the images, writing down dreams, talking with dream characters, and exploring the symbolism behind our current body symptoms (e.g., pain in the neck), that slip of the tongue, or a metaphoric phrase or pun.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.