What are the shapes and spirits, the dreaming creatures and elemental characters that appear to us when we turn to the natural world and ask for its teaching? We can look to the mythologies of traditional cultures to get a big picture story of some of the things we might expect – the cosmic serpent and the animal powers, the plant spirits and hybrid forms – but none of these may appear when we do the actual work in the world with real people. So, following on from my lecture on this subject to the Jung Society of Melbourne this March, it was a privilege to explore the Archetypes of Nature with several participants in the workshop that followed. And what appeared for us in that beautiful space?
It was a very windy day. A wind that had kept me up at night, so that I felt compelled to ask it: what have you to teach? It said: you must lift yourselves up to match me. You must draw on your work, not be afraid to project your voice, lift the group’s energy so that they join forces with the Archetypes of Nature and allow themselves to be evolved by the experience. There is no turning back or turning away from this challenge. Awaken that power, meet it head on and fulfil your promise.
And it meant it. The wind kept up. I thought that a tree could come down and crash through the roof of the building we used as our base for the day. I was worried we wouldn’t even be able to go out and do the work in the natural environment, amongst the tress on the hill, with the breeze in our faces and the scent of pine needles and the sunlight glinting through the clouds. So we stayed inside and shared enough of ourselves to build a little community for the first hour. We dropped into that trance-like state available to us when we allow constant drumming, like a rhythmic heartbeat, to modify our brain waves so that our guides, guardians and allies can appear in our psyches. We shared, when comfortable, what appeared to us and what it meant, how it opened us up to new levels of consciousness that integrated parts of ourselves that had dropped away through the process of socialisation. We broke for lunch and then – the day opened out to our presence in the great outdoors.
We left the building by marking our presence, as embodied beings in a living planet, with mindfulness of every step. We breathe as if the atmosphere nourishes us; each breath entering our lungs to enrich our blood with oxygen, to fill our bodies with life, and then to return to the world to be part of the ongoing cycle. Each footfall reminds us of the miracle of walking, as we balance on one leg before the other makes ground, like monkey paws holding us up as we feel the earth with our heels and toes, gripping and rolling us along the landscape. We stood still on that hillside and imagined the place before the buildings went up, before the streets were laid, sensing the landscape beneath for its rolling hillsides and valleys, ‘placing’ ourselves rather than just assuming we live on the land as strangers: cooped up in buildings and cars all the time, walking in straight lines and looking at the straight walls of buildings … remembering instead how to be primate bodies in relationship to the earth around us.
The stillness that ensues requests our silence, but the wind continued. When we go to practice active imagination, to enter into conversation with whatever spirits of nature appear for us, or Archetypes that have entered our dreams, I have to project my voice at nearly full capacity to be heard over the gusts, as I offer guidance in the protocols of giving thanks and requesting insight. Pay your respects at all times, I remind the group; send your blessings out to the spirits as if they were real, this is what we learn from the venerable traditions. Nature is full of intelligence, so it must be treated and approached with respect. Better to always approach the numinous with a hospitable door open to the spirits that work for the best outcome for all (and the door shut to other types of energy). These are simple rites, but not to be overlooked. They are the safety net for those with the courage to allow that we are not alone on earth.
Say hello to the sun, salute the moon, give thanks to the spirits of the air and the waters, place yourself in the middle of all the directions, up and down as well as all around … be prepared for the conversation to get real and for the appearance of anything. We had wind, all day, challenging us to rise up in response. We had mountains, still and permanent, implacable in the background. We had bark, more than once, speaking of layers: protecting the tree, stripped away to reveal more depths of being, letting go to fall to the ground. We explored the sense of displacement that has marked many of our lives, as we have shifted around the world, by choice or not: an archetype, or meaningful pattern, of modern life if ever there was one. Feeling as though we are alone at the edge of the desert, or looking down into the minutiae of physical life, coming here from Europe or Asia or the Middle East, wanting to feel we belong here and seeking reconciliation with the people that called this place home for countless generations before they too were displaced by the force of modernity. Appreciating the gentle little things, the drops of water that evaporated throughout the day, the flowers small enough to fit inside an acorn cap, the way a stone lifted leaves an imprint on the ground. Flying with a magpie, swirling around the integration of black and white feathers in the mind. Awakening to the way a spider can teach us to overcome our anxiety.
But finally, how can we remember this stuff in everyday life? How do we take the images that appear, the lessons we remember, the messages we receive from this sacred time together, where we carve out a space that Jung would have called a Temenos, to relink our unique selves with the greater reality of the one great Self, in daily life? If we can do that, from our encounter with Archetypes of Nature, then we have truly begun the next phase of our journey towards individuation: towards becoming more truly our own unique, embodied, unrepeatable selves so that we can let go of our attachments to the smaller self of learned responses, defensive patterns and old dreams. Letting go into the infinite potential of the universe as it becomes what it will be, in every moment.