Photo of Washington Monument on Easter Sunday by Lee Lawrence

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The Inner Journey

The inner journey begins with staying put, settling into a chair or cushion, in this place, here. Rather than outwardly seeking more—more vistas, more treasures, more news, more of everything—we moor to the moment. Being mindful of here and now is enough.

What will we find inside ourselves? Nothing less than “the pearl of great price,” the alchemist’s gold, wholeness, interconnectedness in oneness, the archetype of the Self. In Carl Jung’s Collected Works, Jung wrote that the Self “might equally well be called the God within us” (7:399). The inner journey approaches what is holy within us and that wholeness is connected to the Divine, the Source, the Higher Power.

In fact, Jung believed that what heals us is making that connection to the transcendent, what ails us is disconnection from anything sacred. “The religious impulse rests on an instinctual basis and is therefore a specifically human function. When any human function gets lost, i.e. is denied conscious and intentional expression, a general disturbance results” (Collected Works, 10:544).

But I get ahead of myself, which is the trap of anticipation and expectation of a reward. Let us return to beginning to sit in stillness, in meditation, contemplative prayer, or psychotherapy reflection, the psychoanalytic space.

Inevitably, when we begin to sit in stillness, a thousand distractions pour in—unfinished chores, the grocery list, unresolved resentments. St. Teresa of Avila called these her reptiles because in Spain scorpions and snakes could slither under a closed door. Buddhists call the constant inner chatter “monkey mind.” We can acknowledge the distractions but not succumb to them. Let the distractions be. When I taught stress management in a cardiac care unit—which is never a quiet place—I would say, “You can hear machines beeping and you can relax. You can feel air vents blowing and you can relax.” A jar of water and dirt when shaken will be cloudy, but when set still, dirt settles and the water can be clear again. Stillness cultivates a spacious peaceful heart.

Old memories, resentments, and regrets may emerge to disturb the peace. This is an opportunity to feel the sadness, sorrow, anger, grief. Sitting without the escape of an addiction to numb us allows us to feel emotions fully and deeply. Perhaps our older and wiser eyes will provide a new perspective that was not possible in childhood. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “No mud, no lotus,” meaning that we must consciously experience our suffering to develop understanding and compassion. Our mistakes make us humble and more patient with others’ faults. Our pain opens our hearts to others who are hurting. Jung wrote in “The Philosophical Tree,” “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable, and, therefore, not popular” (Collected Works, 13:355). The shadow of what we rejected in ourselves or projected onto others needs to be reclaimed as our own. These dark rejected places will bring forth depth and understanding and should not be shrugged off lightly. An image of the shadow may be a tiger scratching at our door if we’ve rejected our own anger or a quiet tailor mending if we’ve spent too much time publicly strutting. The unconscious will provide a symbol or image for what we need to be brought back into balance. Jung considered this compensation a basic law of the self-regulation of the psyche.

A period of fallowness, or emptiness, may follow in which it appears nothing is happening: No dreams are remembered, no symbols captivate our attention, no chance meetings bless our path, no insights scream “Eureka!” Yet, in this unexciting period as arid as a desert or unclear as fog, we are developing our discipline, independent of rewards. We are aligning ourselves with a process. The meditative muscles are strengthening. Our peaceful heart is expanding with patience. We are building a temenos, a container or field to receive a divinity. In the poem “Oceans” Juan Ramón Jiménez questions this feeling of dullness, “Nothing happens? Or has everything happened, and we are standing now, quietly, in a new life?”

Like a pump that has been primed, dreams begin to flow; images, memories, and connections between memories emerge; and the hard work does have some product to show. Some of these revelations we make happen and some are spiritual gifts beyond our imaginings. For example, in 1918 Jung had the discipline of drawing a circular drawing every day, and these mandalas became an expression of the self-development, beyond the ego. In 1927 Jung had a profound dream that he titled “Window on Eternity,” and he drew the essence of that dream in a mandala that is reproduced in both The Secret of the Golden Flower (Figure 3) and The Red Book, page 159. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung recorded and discussed this entire dream. In summary, in dark, rainy, foggy, smoky Liverpool, a half dozen Swiss visitors climb to a city square where all streets lead to a central “little island blazed in sunlight” on which stands a blossoming magnolia tree that appears to be in the sunlight and the source of the light. Although his companions in the dream scoff at the horrid weather and a Swiss man who has settled there, in the dream Jung thinks to himself, “I know very well why he has settled here,” and awoke. The dark abominable weather represented his feelings at the time. He declares, “But I had a vision of unearthly beauty and that was why I was able to live at all.” The luminous flower in the center is the goal, the destination of all the streets, and as a symbol of the Self it gives direction and meaning. For Jung, “The dream depicted the climax of the whole process of the development of consciousness.” He felt the dream was “an act of grace.” The circle of divine wholeness in the square of earthly material (earth, air, water, fire) shows a harmony of heaven and earth, or, in alchemy, the transformation of lead into gold.

A year later, Jung repainted “Window on Eternity” with a golden castle in the center, and the forms and colors conveyed a Chinese aesthetic, as seen in The Red Book, page 163. Shortly afterward Richard Wilhelm sent him a copy of the first translation of the thousand-year-old Chinese text The Secret of the Golden Flower, which described the yellow castle, the germ of the immortal body, requesting Jung write the foreword. This synchronicity of the Taoist alchemical text, resonating with Jung’s dream and his painting confirmed his ideas of the circumambulation of the Self in the center, the luminous light.

Having a vision of unearthly beauty is arresting and inspiring, and the inner journey may amplify this experience further. Not only is the unearthly beauty admired from afar, but we also find we can embody this immortal beauty; indeed, we already contain this inner light. A caterpillar creates a chrysalis to develop into a new form. It emerges no longer a creature crawling on the earth, but one with wings to fly. The butterfly balances the opposites by being both able to fly and walk, heaven and earth, right and left wings, yin and yang, darkness and light. To embody new consciousness—incorporating the spiritual with the physical—new garments, new wine skins, or a new-born body are needed. On Jung’s family tombstone is inscribed in Latin I Corinthians 15:47, “The first man is from the earth and earthly. The second man is from heaven and is heavenly.” Likewise, in Jung’s essay “Stages of Life,” the first half of life is about developing ego strength to manage in the world. At midlife we re-evaluate our choices, reclaim our soul from anyone or anything onto which our soul has been projected (e.g., ideal career, spouse, children, politics, power, possessions), and align with the transcendent. In late life, we work to let go of life and reflect on immortality (Collected Works, 8:749–95).

We may have a guide for these transitions. A figure of the opposite sex (anima/animus) may appear in dreams or visions or art to introduce us to the images of the collective unconscious. This muse to the transpersonal realms attracts us with otherworldly beauty and helps us open doors, cross thresholds, catalyze growth, and enter a whole new world. (Often the idealized anima/animus is projected romantically onto a human being, and that can be instructive but more complicated than the inner journey.) The inner soul-guide brings us to the still-point in the center, which also encompasses the whole circle, the archetype of the Self.

Are we there yet? The journey circumambulates the Self, circling around a Great Mystery. The inner journey never ends; it is an ongoing process of becoming. The Self may appear in a dream or vision as a wise old man or woman, royalty, a stone, a world tree, a circle, a cross, fire, or a flower. An aura may glow around it with some compelling meaning. A numinous symbol or experience provokes feelings of intense fearful awe or attraction. Otto Rank in his book The Idea of the Holy defined numinous as “mysterium tremendum et fascinans,” something mysterious, awe-inspiring, and compelling. Jung in his Collected Works notes, “The numinosum is either a quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration in consciousness” (11:16). We deepen our connection to a source greater than ourselves and this starts to influence our lives. Eventually we shift from creating or controlling our lives, to receiving and accepting the mystery of life.

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung concludes, “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question in life. Only if we know that the thing that truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities” (325). He goes on to say that we already have a link with the infinite. According to Jung, we have an innate God-image that he calls the archetype of the Self and we have a religious instinct that nudges us toward inner reflection, a search for meaning, and a connection to the transcendent. When our personal ego is listening to the Divine, revelations from the collective (or transpersonal) unconscious will enhance continual transformation.

Jung also influenced the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous by a promoting a spiritual aspect of recovery. In a letter to Bill W., Jung wrote, “You see, ‘alcohol’ in Latin is spiritus, and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” Thus, he proposed a religious experience, a spiritual thirst, could override the craving for alcohol. The twelve steps include recognition of limitations, asking a Higher Power for help, shadow work or self-confrontation in a personal inventory, prayer and meditation, and helping others.

When I attended the final Journey to Wholeness Conference in Hendersonville, North Carolina, I wondered if I would have a dream at its momentous conclusion. I asked my questions and fell asleep with a feeling of hopeful receptivity. I did have a significant dream, but I recalled only this much: An elderly man with a beard and a white gown hands me a four-foot stick. I ask him if it is a walking stick or a talking stick. He doesn’t answer my question. He tells me there are only two things I need to remember for the rest of my life. He tells me them, I take the stick and walk down the trail confident and happy for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, when I awoke, I completely forgot the two essential dictums. I tried to re-create the dream, assuming the sleeping position and focusing on the wise old man (symbol of the Self), but I had no clue. I felt bereft. At the conclusion of the retreat, I decided to walk the labyrinth. I prayed for help to learn the messages. I entered the labyrinth feeling crestfallen, as if they were hopelessly irretrievable, but as I walked the first message came to me: You are not alone. I liked that. I recognized it. That was it. I thought not only of all the friends and relatives who support me in this life, but the deceased ones across the veil, ancestors, angels, saints, Jesus, and others. There was a host around me. As I approached the center of the labyrinth, I considered a sit-down strike until the second message returned. I retrieved it fairly quickly: Ask for help. Yes, indeed, that’s it. I felt so grateful, I skipped through the maze. I appreciated that “You are not alone. Ask for help.” were the phrases I needed to remember for the rest of my life. As I walked out into the world, it occurred to me that I had already enacted the message. Walking the labyrinth, I believed I was not alone and I had asked the Divine for help. The retrieved messages were embodied and indelible.

This dream was meant to be shared, just like Jung’s dream and painting “Window on Eternity” invites all to connect to the luminous center. We are not alone—there is a Higher Power, the Source, the Divine, and we can ask for help. On the inner journey we travel through the distractions, self-confrontation of our shadow, periods of dry uncertainty, receptivity to spiritual gifts, a soul-guide anima or animus to the collective unconscious symbols, and, in the luminous center, the archetype of the Self. We discover not only the transcendent but also the Immanent in our own beautiful immortal souls. Marie-Louise von Franz describes it this way, “The experience of Self brings a feeling of standing on solid ground inside oneself, on a patch of eternity, which even physical death cannot touch.” The inner journey brings us to our immortal luminous center, the still point that T. S. Eliot in his poem Dry Salvages called “the intersection of the timeless with time.” Here and now.