What does it mean to be alive? Most everyone can agree that a horse is alive or an oak tree is alive. But is a river alive? Are clouds alive? Is the psyche alive?
We call something alive for different reasons—one being when the thing that we are trying to describe as alive is moving, active and abounds with energy.
The human psyche is alive in this way. It is alive in the same way that a river is alive and changing as it meanders toward its destiny. The psyche moves and it abounds with life. The psyche changes its trajectory like a river changes its course after heavy winter snows and in the early part of spring when the river’s waters bust over the river bank creating a new course.
In Jungian psychology, the psyche is the totality of both the conscious and unconscious processes in a human being. Jung further described the psyche as being a self-regulating system. Like the water in a river which bursts over the high water mark only to settle back into a more “natural” and contained flow, the processes and energy of the psyche is self-regulating in a similar manner.
When you awake in the morning, after a night of sleep and dreams, you are awakening into a new day that has the potential to engage you yet again with the imagery and symbols from your dreams and from the deeper unconscious processes that can be found there. If you pay attention to this imagery, you can learn more about yourself and your psyche’s direction for you.
The custom imagery from your unconscious, often most clearly revealed in your night-time dreams, doesn’t really go away when the sun comes up. It is still there, in your mind, in your psyche, in your soul.
Your symbolic imagery from the night is also “alive” during the day. We wear sunglasses during the day to protect our eyes from the sun’s bright rays, but symbolically, sunglasses also help to bring in the shadows and the darkness from the night. A system, including the self-regulating system of the human psyche, works best when we allow for an ease of flow, and in this case, the flow of imagery from the night into the action of the day.
The psyche also makes its presence known in the outer world through synchronicity–meaningful coincidences.
Recently, I was walking on the edge of an old Western town and down a gravel road next to a train track. There were old, rusted metal buildings on both sides of the road and a junk yard full of scrap metal and other items from decades ago. In broad daylight, standing tall in the middle of the junk yard in a place that he shouldn’t be unless this were a dream, was a large mule deer buck staring straight at me. My first thought was, the buck is a fake, a mechanical deer meant to trick passers-by, giving someone a good laugh. I’d seen these mechanical deer before.
I looked away and back again. The deer’s head was now down. A mechanical deer with a moving head, I thought? No, the great deer was alive. I stood to watch and looked in amazement at a stunningly beautiful buck deer with massive velvety antlers, gazing at me from the middle of a junk yard.
I walked around the corner and away from the junk yard. Behind the junk yard, now standing in a grassy alley, the buck was moving in the same direction as me. We looked at each other again for a moment and then I walked away. I have probably encountered thousands of deer in my life in the wilds, but I knew that what I had just witnessed was a very sacred, numinous encounter that among other things, has served as an inspiration for me writing on this topic.
The psyche is alive. It is not mechanical. It moves and abounds with life and energy like my numinous encounter with the buck mule deer. When we view and approach the psyche as a thing that is alive, as if it is a living, breathing thing of beauty, we engage the world in a way that allows for a flow of imagery and emotion between the dark of night and the bright of day—psyche and soul become one.