The Study of the Soul
My family and I just returned from a trip to Chaco Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce National parks. Being in these places provided a powerful reminder of history and culture as we walked in the footsteps of the Pueblo people, gazed upon the remains of their homes and ceremonial grounds. Profound images of Kivas and the ancient people whose lives peacefully revolved around the seasons and celestial markers of time. Thousand year old stone structures were aligned with the passage of the sun revealing powerful alignments with the solstices and equinoxes. Moments of awe and a sense of being on sacred ground were amplified by the timing of our trip that happened to coincide with the spring equinox and the full moon.
This trip reminded me of my psychological roots. My mother introduced me to Jungian Psychology as it was a passion of hers as she had the opportunity to undergo many years of her own analysis. When I began my studies in psychology I too was drawn to this depth approach through many years of dream work and embodied process work. Psyche is the Greek word for “soul.” Psychology in true form is the study of the soul.
“Depth psychology explores dreams, stories, myths, symbols, culture, and history as ways to access a sense of meaning. This provides substance behind the superficial, yet equally important, aspects of life. Of course, we need to work, to pay the bills, to cook the meals, and to wash the dishes. Equally, we need to feel connected to something bigger than us to know how our unique thread fits into the fabric of all life.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Two days before our trip I awoke from a dream that called me towards a piece of “inner work.” What I recalled upon awakening was really just an image that lingered in my consciousness yet this fragment was sufficiently powerful to capture my attention. The dream was of three sea lions caught in a fisherman’s trap being pulled behind a large boat trolling the ocean for fish. I was standing on the shore wondering how to free the sea lions that were caught in the cage.
Later that day, I began a process of active imagination, “dreamwork” that involves returning to the scene or image from a dream and exploring the associated images, sensations, and emotions:
As I re-enter the watery scene I explore my relationship with each part of the dream. As the sea lions I feel how my body longs to be free; to return to the watery depths. As the cage I am made up of sharp lines firm and unyielding. I let you in but will not let go. As the ocean I feel vast and limitless, spacious, and deep. As the dreamer I long to free to sea lions who now become the mythological Selkies who live as seals in the water and humans on land. I recall the story of a man who hides away the sealskin of his Selkie wife so she cannot go back to sea. I am like the Selkies torn between my love of the sea and land; my capacity to explore the depths and need to return to the surface. I envision that Poseidon rises from the sea and lifting his trident releases the sea lions from their cage. Something shifts internally as I drop into the watery depths, an emotional release.
Chaco canyon was rich with petroglyph images of spirals and stone circles. Powerful symbols. Spirals remind us of the power of the inner journey, the need to “spiral in” to the center, the path of discovery. Here we gather power and wisdom. The spiral also reminds us of the need to bring our gifts back out into the world; this completes the circle. Receiving and giving, spiraling in and spiraling out, diving into the depths of the soul’s journey and returning to the surface—the cycles of life.
Next stop on our journey was to the Grand Canyon. I felt a strong calling to walk down from the rim to the river. But I knew that we were unable to complete the descent and ascent in one day as this is an arduous 17 mile hike. I had heard of the highly desired campsites and cabins down at the base within the safe haven of Phantom Ranch but knew that people wait months and sometimes over a year to secure a place to sleep at the base of the canyon. Chances were slim.
On our way in I called down to the ranch to find out if there happened to be any cancellations to discover they had just had a cancellation with enough room for a family of four. I took this is as a sign.
Descending to the Sacred Waters
The scale of the Grand Canyon is so enormous it can hardly be comprehended by mind or sight alone. Rock lifted up over 7,000 feet in elevation and a canyon a mile deep carved out by the powerful persistence of water. This vast canyon is something that can only be experienced and felt.
The descent into the canyon was one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life. A pilgrimage. A life-changing event complete with obstacles to overcome. I hit a wall of fatigue…my legs could not go one step further. My mind tried to convince me that I could not make it, that I took on a challenge too big. “What was I thinking?” “What was I trying to prove?”
Somehow, despite the fatigue and ramped up inner critic I managed to place one foot in front of the other. I moved past the traps of self-imposed limitations. I called upon my inner Poseidon and broke the spell. The energy that was directing my self-judge became fuel for the journey.
Initially the river was hidden by rock but as we descended the sight of blue-green water encouraged me on. The profound beauty of the canyon, the sheer effort of the hike, I was moved to tears. Having touched the sacred waters we all made it, rim to river and back again.
Carl Jung believed that disconnection from the deeper “Self” is the root cause of psychological distress. It is easy to over-identify with superficial aspects of ourselves and the world. We can all get caught up in the “roles” that we play at home or work, the current fashion fad, or even our Facebook profiles. Dreams, stories, myths, symbols, culture, and history offer ways to connect to what James Hillman describes as the “seat of meaningful experience.” Such experiences that harbor emotional or spiritual significance provide substance behind the superficial, yet equally important, aspects of life. Yes we need to work, to pay the bills, to cook the meals, and to wash the dishes. However, the goal of depth psychology is to cultivate a relationship to a Self that is less subject to change; to return the soul into psychology.
We need to feel connected to something bigger than us. You have your unique path to arrive at such an experience. Mine just happened to correspond with a descent into the Grand Canyon. Spiral in. Listen to your dreams, attend to your hopes, mend your heart. Only you hold the keys to your truth. Spiral out and bring your gifts to the world. Your unique thread fits into the fabric of all life; you are needed.
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About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Fall, 2016). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.