A Roadmap of the Soul

A Roadmap of the Soul

Although not our natural state, I believe in the possibility of a truly meaningful and fulfilled life. A life lived with a sense of profound excitement and awe; a life where the depth, complexity and beauty of the cosmos live in us.

I don’t suggest that suffering is not a reality, or that I have personally reached such an elevated state of consciousness. I suggest rather, that much suffering we do endure is illegitimate and that:

  • a meaningless existence,
  • boredom,
  • lack of purpose,
  • a passionless life,
  • an absence of the divine,

are not essential conditions of our existence, although they often seem to be. These are rather, I suggest, a lack of imagery, or at least of the right imagery.

Yorum Kaufman writes, in The way of the Image, that the art of analysis is the discovery of the patients ‘unique imaginal language’. That each of us has a set of psychic images, a map of our soul’s code, or simply, our unique psychology. The discovery, unveiling and illumination of these images is the ‘art and science’ of analysis.

The unconscious communicates through images. Languages, words, are themselves images, but they are highly abstracted images. With increased abstraction come a loss of the original, primal energy of the original form the words represent. When we talk about the ‘original form’ here we are talking about the pre-symbolised experience.

Cast your mind back to a primal experience in your own history, an act which was full of psychic energy, or numinousity[1] (to quote Otto Gross). The type of experience we are talking about here would typically include one of the following elements:

  • being present at your child’s birth,
  • the death of a loved one,
  • violence,
  • sex,
  • a profoundly moving spiritual experience in any form.

You can think of any one of these as an eruption of unconscious contents into conscious awareness; these are highly emotive, irrational, primal, savage and at times overwhelming experiences. The one thing they all have in common is that they are charged with psychic energy and they provoke in you a highly charged response.

The way we assimilate these experiences, make them part of our psychic inventory, own them and bring them under conscious control is through symbolisation. We use language typically, but not exclusively, to render (or re-imagine) the experience in the domain of the symbolised. This is the juxtaposition of the savage and the symbolised[2]. On a collective level philosophy performs the same function for metaphysics, art and science for the cosmos, and psychology for our soul life. These all render the original savage state in symbolic terms and in so doing bring them under them into the domain of the intellect.

The ability to do this is in large part directly responsible for civilisation and, naturally, culture. The birth and development of consciousness is quite rightly equated with the birth and development of language. However, and this is the critical point here, the act of abstracting that occurs through the symbolisation process renders the original experience energetically impotent. The act of abstraction de-potentiates the original numinousity. Now what Kaufmann is suggesting, and this is pretty classical Jung, is that we each posses, or are possessed by (depending on your perspective) a number of these primal images. There is an important difference here though, from the example I used above, and that is that:

1)      the seeds of images are already constellated in our unconscious, prior to any concrete experience,

2)      The images we are talking about here create a unique imaginal pattern in your psyche, acting as a kind of psychic fingerprint.

This may be best illustrated by example. Consider sex, a drive we all share (and one of my favourite topics :-)). We are all born with the sexual drive, although it only starts manifesting in a mature form at puberty.  This is a universal, instinctive and for Jung- archetypal, drive, shared by all of mankind. This drive has been around since Adam and Eve, if we believe the creationists, or a lot longer if we believe the Darwinians.  It is in evolutionary terms simply the procreative drive. Nevertheless, as you  no doubt have experienced, your personal sex drive is a lot more differentiated than ‘the urge to procreate’[3].

Your sexual imagery takes a specific form, or forms more likely. When you are aroused by a sexual fantasy, this fantasy contains specific images, storylines and ideas. These images are mostly based on memories of actual events you have participated in or witnessed; although not always, one may construct certain complex imaginary scenarios based on fragmented images.

These images channel the psychic energy from the archetype or instinct and allow it to live in you as a psychic reality. These images provide you with access to this energetic fountainhead. Provided, that is, that these are genuinely primal images, meaning they are alive and move you. If they do not move you then most likely:

1)      you have no access to that archetype, it is not constellated in your psyche,

2)     the image is inauthentic for you,

3)     or has been abstracted to the point that it is no longer numinous.

The discovery of these images, the images that speak to the archetypes constellated in your psyche, provide a roadmap to your soul’s code. I have used the example of sexual imagery because it is very easy to relate to, but these images are by no means limited to sex, despite what Freud would say to the contrary. The acid test with respect to whether the image is authentic or not is simply whether is resonates for you; resonates in this context meaning, the image provokes in you one, or more, of the following:

  • excitement, bliss, joy,
  • a sense of longing, desire
  • profound sadness or melancholy,
  • fear, loathing, terror.

The significance of the image for you and its function as a reservoir of meaning and energy, as well as the potency of the image to engage you in life and act as an agent of transformation, is directly proportionate to how emotive the image is.

Our respective abilities to access such imagery and the depth and scope of this imaginative capacity are naturally not equal. Genius, be it in the arts of sciences, has a direct relationship with this capacity.  Nevertheless, except in the case of very few stunted individuals, we all have access to the imaginary realm. With practice, stimulation and application this faculty offers increasingly greater treasures. Amongst the greatest, if not the greatest, of these is the discovery of the images that constitute our personal mythology.

Until we speak again,



[1] Otto Gross was a contemporary of Jung and Freud and articulated the idea of the numinous. This is meant to describe the experience of encountering the Divine which whilst it can be sublime has an element of the terrible in it; an overwhelming experience of coming face-to-face with God. A good illustration of this idea comes from Giegerich who to the outrage of many Jungians claimed the only point of encounter with God or the numinous in the late 20th century was the nuclear bomb.

[2] Camus vs. Sartre, (2012), Martin.

[3] It is also unlikely you encounter any image of Darwin in your sexual imagery, although quite possible that God has been called upon more than once during the act of coitus. Is this evidence in favour of the creationism – well I’ll leave you to decide :-).

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  • Ray Sher Reply

    this is fascinating

    September 6, 2012 at 8:44 am

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