As a spiritual counselor, I’m left with the difficult task of trying to put words to communicate the ineffable. Because, at its base, spirituality is not something that can be prescribed or something that can be contained by definitions.
However, if we want to try to talk about spirituality, we have to do our best to point people towards the ineffable…Towards that which can’t be said so that they can draw on their own experiences to touch it and have an understanding of what it means.
One notion that for me was a very deep one–that is an entrance into the reality of spirituality–is the notion of an archetype.
Carl Jung is credited with the notion of an archetype from a psychological point of view. If we’re just kind of sketching the edges–pun intended–an archetype is actually similar to something like a stereotype or typology of some kind. An archetype in the psychological sense is a deep psychological structure embedded in the unconscious of all human beings.
If you think about Plato, one of his ideas was the Realm of Ideal Forms, which was long before Carl Jung. The Realm of Ideal Forms said that for every phenomenon, everything that exists in the world, there is a perfect archetype or stereotype of it that exists in the realm of the imaginary or the Realm of the Idea. All things in this world are imperfect versions of that perfect archetypal ideal of that thing.
Easy example, a lot of philosophy teachers use this. A chair in, let’s call it…heaven. You know, the realm of Ideal Imaginary Forms. There’s a perfect chair and every chair here is a reflection of that chair–of that ideal chair.
An archetype could also be a force. The way that I like to think about archetypes, in a practical way, is like a personality inside of myself.
When I’m doing my own transformational work or I’m working with someone else, what I’ll notice if I’m moving slow enough and really paying attention is that it’ll feel like there’s more than one person inside of a person.
I call those sub-personalities. And if you really move deeply to sub-personalities, you’ll see there’s certain commonalities that different people’s sub-personalities have.
The Archetype of an Addict
So here’s an easy example: What is the archetype of the addict?
The addict is a phenomenon, I know one when I meet one.
But what is the ideal form that all humans are, you know, dancing around imperfect versions of that perfect addict.
I’m gonna give you an example. If you watch the movie Lord of the Rings, there’s a Golem character in there and he goes “precious”. He’s addicted to this ring. He’s this kind of skinny little, gray being. He’s kind of sweet, but not really trustworthy because he’s so infatuated with getting this ring. And to me, when you look at that guy, you go,that is the archetype of an addict.
If you’re an addict and you look inside yourself, you could go… I recognize that inner “precious” in me.
You can think about archetypes as these kinds of Ideal Forms that we all somehow kind of relate to. As well as the archetype of the drunk, or the archetype of the addict.
Or when I put this particular sweater on, a few people here said, “Okay, Professor”. It’s the archetype of a professor.
They are these things that can’t be defined, but we recognize them when we see them. They’re sort of embedded in our consciousness. It’s not always people or sub-personalities and that kind of thing.
A lot of the time, we talked about archetypal forces in the unconscious, which is the same kind of idea. But imagine that there are, in the structures of our mind, archetypes at different levels. Up here, we have things like personalities, but down here there are things like drives–these archetypal primitive drives that exist.
Archetypes and Spirituality
What does that have to do with spirituality?
Well, I think that what people don’t understand is that one level of spirituality is the level of the imaginary.
If you close your eyes and kind of move into your inner world and landscape, there are words. Poetry, language, sensations, colors, images… beings even sometimes–at least in your dreams.
There’s a whole world in the Realm of the Imaginary. That’s possibly, if we speculate, being produced by our mind, or maybe we’re tapping into something collective or the cosmos. But spirituality helps connect us to that place of the imaginary or in that place of the psyche.
And so getting to know these different forces within me, these different archetypes within me, the different shapes and contours of my psyche is part of my spiritual work.
Alan Watts says about Carl Jung, that one of the things that’s so impressive about him is how well he knew himself and particularly how well he knew his shadow. He’s one of those men who became very comfortable with all of his different parts.
And one could say that the act of maturity–spiritual maturity–has to do with becoming more and more comfortable with all the parts of yourself, especially the parts of yourself that make you uncomfortable.
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