Published on Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com)
Christmas and the Birth of the Self
By Andrea Mathews, L.P.C.
Created Dec 21 2010 - 8:37am
Typically, Christmas is seen as a time for either giving and receiving gifts and enjoying the feasts and parties surrounding the day, or it is seen as a sacred religious holiday--or both. But I encourage everyone to look to their dreams around Christmas time to begin to see a different theme born from within. Often I find that clients bring in dreams that point to the sacred birth of the Self, during the Christmas season. Symbols like an enormous buck appearing in the middle of the mundane events of living; or an actual trek to Bethlehem as a theme of a dream. Many dreams tell the story in which the dreamer gives birth to a baby who grows rapidly and speaks wisdom. These symbols and others indicate something new being born in the individual psyche.
Those of us who have been raised and steeped in religious tradition, particularly Christian religion, might find it difficult to accept the idea--especially one coming from a relatively unknown author such as myself-that the birth of the Christ child can actually be a symbol for the birth of the Self. So, let's go for a more reputable author.
Carl Jung tells us in Christ: A Symbol of the Self: "Christ is our nearest analogy of the self and its meaning" (Storr 299). He explains how this process of the Self happens in the Collected Works, Volume 13, par. 67:
If the unconscious can be recognized as a co-determining factor along with consciousness, and if we can live in such a way that conscious and unconscious demands are taken into account as far as possible, then the center of gravity of the total personality shifts its position. It is then no longer in the ego, which is merely the centre of consciousness, but in the hypothetical point between conscious and unconscious. This new centre might be called the self (Storr 19)
And from his book entitled The Essential Jung, Anthony Storr tells us:
The goal toward which the individuation process is tending is "Wholeness" or "Integration": a condition in which all the different elements of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious, are welded together. The person who achieves this goal possesses "an attitude that is beyond the reach of emotional entanglements and violent shocks - a consciousness detached from the world" (CW 13, par 68).
Individuation, in Jung's view, is a spiritual journey; and the person embarking upon it, although he might not subscribe to any recognized creed, was nonetheless pursuing a religious quest. By paying careful attention to the unconscious, as manifested in dream and fantasy, the individual comes to change his attitude from one in which ego and will are paramount to one in which he acknowledges that he is guided by an integrating factor which is not of his own making. This integrating factor... is named the Self, which not only signifies union between the opposites within the psyche, but "is a God-image or at least cannot be distinguished from one" (CW 9 ii, par. 42). Jung states: Unity and totality stand at the highest point on the scale of objective values because their symbols can no longer be distinguished from the imago Dei. Hence all statements about the God-image apply also to the empirical symbols of totality (CW 9 ii, par 42) (Storr 229).
Individuation includes that process of sorting we discussed in the previous blog-also known as the differentiation process. And it also includes an integration process. So, we differentiate so that we can integrate. We sort out and name the fine distinctions in the psyche, and then we blend them together in an alchemical process that brings us to wholeness. The alchemical process is a strange mix of conscious and unconscious endeavors.
In my book, Restoring My Soul: A Workbook for Finding and Living the Authentic Self, there are many exercises that one can perform right there on the pages to enable the conscious mind to begin to recognize the authentic Self as well as the masks, costumes, roles and scripts that we have lived out prior to that recognition. But those exercises also trigger unconscious responses that enable deeper and deeper connections. Some of those processes are so deeply embedded in the unconscious that they can only be dreamed. They cannot be brought into the world of logos, the world of verbal or even intellectual understanding. But stories begin to be told to us in our dreams, problems, even problems involving life and death scenarios, are resolved in our dreams. It's as if the unconscious mind says, "Oh, okay, the conscious mind is working on this stuff, opening the door to me to come through and do my work."
In that same way, we may find that as we begin the work of finding and living the authentic Self, we are being prepared to receive the imago Dei--the wholeness of the Self--through the triggering symbols presented by the story of the birth of a Divine child. Merry birthing.
Storr, Anthony, ed. (1983-1999). The Essential Jung. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.