Amazing as Carl Jung’s journey into the unconscious in The Red Book appears, perhaps more surprising and completely overlooked is that he found the portal to his mythical adventure in that very common human irritation : the bad mood. Jung writes in his essay The Transcendent Function:
“He should occupy himself intensively with the mood in an uncritical frame of mind, becoming absorbed in it, and noting down on paper a description of the mood and all the fantasies which emerge. In doing so the fantasies must be allowed the widest free-play.”
This basic definition of Jung’s method of active imagination will serve as a backdrop for this exploration of the common everyday experiences of aggravated physical symptoms, foul moods, and irritating people.
Be it a rash, a neck ache, a bothersome hang nail, acid reflux, constipation or its opposite,…clearly the list goes on, the experience of our bodies can, like the images in our dreams, provide the starting place for an inquiry into soul.
Why this symptom? Why now? What it this aggravation trying to point out?
If our only goal is to alleviate symptoms, we will reach for the aspirin, the skin cream or the tums. But what if before masking the ailment with remedies, we instead like the alchemists proceeded with an attitude that hidden in the matter (in this case in the body) was a secret trying to express itself.
A useful resource to explore the meaning of various body parts is the recently published The Book of Symbols, Reflections on Archetypal Images from The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism. Amplifying the symptom by exploring the manifold meanings attributed to the body part can provide a symbolic context to consider what message the symptom might be drawing your attention to.
For those that really want to dig into the psychosomatic threshold, I recommend Skin Disease: A Message From The Soul: A Treatise from a Jungian Perspective of Psychosomatic Dermatology.
“I’ve never been so irritated and I’m not even sure why.”
Like the need to suppress aggravating physical symptoms, foul moods push many into a desperate search for relief, be it through substances, sex, shopping, or any of the variety of behaviors that we turn to in order to change our brain chemistry.
Like a dream, a bad mood is not a chosen psychic reality. It comes over us as if it has a life of it’s own, a quality that is defined as autonomous. In the preface to this series of posts I noted how Jung found in the bad mood, especially the depressed variety, a starting place for active imagination.
In the bad mood we discover the infringement of the unconscious into consciousness. By giving it attention, we not only find that it tends to dissipate, but that through the interaction we gain in understanding of ourselves and the forces that live through us.
An unexpected gold mine when it comes to places to catch a hold of psyche is to investigate all the things we find irritating in other people. The slogan which conveys this psychological reality called projection is “Wherever we are pointing our finger, there are three fingers pointing back at us.”
In Jungian terms this is called shadow work. Qualities in the personality which are judged unworthy, inferior, unruly, too conforming, too righteous, too loud, too soft, too perfect, too chaotic…whatever the case might be, get recognized in the behaviors of others. If we reel in our projections back from the other person we are ready to begin discovering the unconscious shadow, the inner Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll.
Throughout popular culture and seen regularly in science fiction is the symbol of the portal. The portal links two separate realities which in normal situations appear discontinuous, not connected. In many ways the hyperlink here in digital media operates as a type of portal.
Here we are attempting to find in our common nagging daily experiences an invitation, a portal to soul. If we begin work with these matters, with the Alchemists we will be able to proclaim:
The matter lies before the eyes of all; everybody sees it, touches it, loves it, but knows it not. It is glorious and vile, precious and of small account, and is found everywhere… But, to be brief, our Matter has as many names as there are things in this world; that is why the foolish know it not. The Golden Tract Concerning the Philosopher’s Stone