Life is messy. Tangly, wild, and woolly.
And inside our own mind, the swirl of thoughts surrounding this hectic, modern life is even more muddled.
We’ve all been in that place: a whirl of emotionally charged ideas about how a situation (ahem, life) coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’ gone. How it went down was not how you planned and suddenly you find yourself in the very Grinch-y state of – and I quote – “an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots.”
You know what I’m talkin’ about.
The alchemists had a word for it: massa confusa. A confusing mass.
The chief goal in the alchemical tradition was the discovery of the prima materia, the singular substance responsible for animating all life on earth. The pursuit of this elixir of life began with placing the base matter – natural materials, metals, horse urine (you know, normal stuff) – in a vessel. The material was then subjected to various processes – the application of heat, pressure, solvents, etc. – in order to separate out and identify the individual components that make up the massa confusa.
Within the realm of psyche, this sorting or clarifying process is essential for making meaning out of the mess.
But you might be wondering, how do I do that when I’m right smack dab in the middle of it?
And this is where the magic happens. Enter the archetype of spirit.
In his writings, Jung illustrates the role spirit plays in our lives through its appearance in fairy tales. The archetype commonly appears as a wise old figure, or sage, who appears when the heroine of the tale has found herself in a hopeless situation. When the wise one appears, Jung writes, (s)he “asks questions like who? what? why? whence? and whither? for the purpose of inducing self-reflection and mobilizing the moral forces.” This objective line of questioning pulls the heroine out of the emotional entanglement of the, let’s say, hot mess; and gives her some healthy distance so she can regain her wits about her.
What we’re talking about here is perspective.
THE ARCHETYPE OF SPIRIT HOLDS THE WIDE ANGLE VIEW OF THE FOREST WHILE WE’RE TRIPPED UP IN THE THICKET.
When spirit shows up to work in our lives, it sets off a chain reaction of “inner confrontations and realizations” to try to get us to see the bigger picture (Jung, C.W. 9). It is the swift, winged messenger who delivers what Clarissa Pinkola Estés refers to as the “key questions” in Women Who Run With the Wolves.
“THE PROPERLY SHAPED QUESTION ALWAYS EMANATES FROM AN ESSENTIAL CURIOSITY ABOUT WHAT STANDS BEHIND. QUESTIONS ARE THE KEYS THAT CAUSE THE SECRET DOORS OF THE PSYCHE TO SWING OPEN.”
CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS
In fairy tales, the archetype of spirit is the embodiment of that clarifying source of inspiration. It is the aha! moment personified.
That moment when you’ve been in the thick, murky bottom of the marsh, and suddenly the clouds part and the path magically appears before you.
Cue Jimmy Cliff’s I Can See Clearly Now as you turn to your own reflection in the now crystal-clear surface of the water that surrounds you and say, “I am feeling very Olympic today. How about you?”
And just like that a world of possibilities opens before you.
This is what the archetype of spirit has to offer you. It is always waiting at the ready to lift you out of despair and into higher consciousness if you will allow it.
Consider it like a magic carpet ride: an opportunity to momentarily soar above the clamor of the cityscape to grasp the strange beauty of it all and connect with the realm of unlimited possibility.
Cue Aladdin’s A Whole New World. I could keep going, but I think you get the picture.
All that is required is that we engage. And doing so can be as easy as getting quiet and creating space for it to show up for us. Because as Jung writes, spirit “is like a still small voice, and it sounds from afar.”
So the next time you find yourself being served up a – and I quote – “three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce,” take a time out, a few deep breaths, and give the following exercise a go:
CLARIFYING QUESTIONS JOURNAL RITUAL
Grab a pen and your journal or a blank sheet of paper. Light a candle and set your intention to connect with the guidance of spirit, and allow your ego-mind to fall away, so that you can answer the following prompts in stream-of-consciousness style:
Give the rundown of the full cast of characters involved in your present predicament.
Write down what happened exactly as you see it, Dear Diary-style.
Why did I respond the way I did? (ex. “I felt _________, because…”)
From what place or source did my response come? (Hint: Trigger alert! This usually points to negative beliefs you’re holding about yourself or past pain points. Without overthinking write down what comes to mind. If you can’t make an immediate connection, write down any past situations that feel similar to this one.)
Where is this going? And to what end? What learning or growth is being required of me?
The archetype of spirit is not only a knowing sage, but also a great healer.
“THE HEALER IS ALWAYS THE ‘FAR-SEER.’ SHE IS THE ONE WHO CAN TELL US WHAT GOOD CAN COME FROM EXPLORING THIS EMOTIVE SURGE.”
CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS
If we look close enough, we can see that past wounds are reflected in present challenges. The archetype of spirit urges us to be conscious of this fact and offers us tremendous healing, in recognition that our deepest wounds can give rise to our greatest gifts.
The archetype of spirit is always pushing us in the direction of our potentiality, and it ain’t always pretty. This line of questioning will gently guide you to peer beneath the particulars of the present predicament, to see what’s really being presented for healing, as well as, what’s being called from the depths for cultivation. The material you’re working with can run the gamut from unprocessed emotion to your innate giftedness (sometimes an equally terrifying prospect).
Spirit wants you to be well and whole. And it knows that the process of healing into wholeness sometimes requires the rattling of a few things loose. But only so that they can be examined and enfolded into the realm of deeper understanding and higher consciousness. This is the making of soul.
The part of the tale where you get to write your own ending.
I really want to hear from you. Within some of life’s challenges, have you been able to recognize the healing potential or the cultivation of your wild and singular soul? Please tell me in the comments!
p.s. During the Clarifying Questions Ritual, do your best to embody the archetype of spirit. Remember, the sage healer is always eccentric af, so grab your crystal ball, get as weird as you want, and have fun with it. Deep work like this calls for healthy doses of humor. And if you need me, you know where to find me.