Our psychic world is made up of a myriad of ways that we attempt to symbolize our reality. Our symbolization provides meaning and context, giving shape to our emotions and perceptions.
The human capacity for symbolization is a gift that allows us to communicate with both ourselves and others. But we often get stuck within dualistic traps that forestall more complex and dialectical modes of thought. This may happen at any level of thought or symbolization.
In this old map, above, we can see that the ancient ways of symbolizing ‘reality’ are outdated by today’s standards. We have explored our oceans, and no longer need to juxtapose the ‘known’ territory against ‘unknown’ in such a dramatic fashion. But, in a similar way, we are currently juxtaposing ‘reality’ against a greater unknown abyss.
Many of our most fragile conceptions are juxtaposed against some vague ocean of the unkown. The finite is conceptualized against the background of the infinite; the temporal, against the background of the eternal; necessity, against the background of freedom; the literal, against the background of the imaginal; the conscious mind against the backdrop of the unconscious.
In many ways we need the divine to make sense of reality. Like a figure emerging from a ground, reality is conceptualized against the backdrop of divinity. But, the problem with such a binary way of thinking is that we tend to devalue one pole and glorify another. For instance earthy life is often devalued in favor of a heavenly life within religious communities.
For those more scientifically inclined there are dualistic traps as well. For example, all that has not been conceptualized in terms of ‘reality’ may disappear into borderlands of ‘un-reality’ and nothingness. For the atheist, the divine becomes a void, destined to haunt the mind with emptiness.
When we are stuck within such dualistic thinking, our subjectively felt intuitions often arise into consciousness accompanied by ‘uncanny feelings’. The Germans call uncanny feelings unheimliche, meaning “the opposite of what is familiar.” Uncanny feeling may accompany our thoughts and intuitions because we have continually pushed them away for too long. Freud called this the “return of the repressed.”
It is the capacity to work with paradox which allows us to tarry with the uncanny aspects of being. In sitting with these uncanny feelings we may discover that we are able to begin to give some sort of symbolization to them. These symbolizations often take the form of archetypes.
Archetypes are the basic forms of the numinous. They take visionary form– offering insight through spontaneous psychical images. Archetypes are paradox– speaking a paradoxical language in imaginal form.
It is through such images that we first begin to dialectically symbolize that which was previously grasped only in terms of dualistic thinking. It is through the labors of symbolizing our subjective experience that we may reach a capacity to integrate previously dualistic notions.
The struggle to integrate duality is essential to the realization of the true nature of the Self. Archetypal symbolization provides a path for integrating previously dualistic notions of the sacred and profane, inside and outside, eternal and temporal, self and other. Through a process of dialectically integrating previously opposed notions we begin to integrate, not only our notions the word around us, but our self.
In working through dialectical integration, the world outside our mapped ‘territory’ no longer appears as a frightening abyss (filled with sea monsters). Instead we slowly begin to map the sacred real, discovering bright stars and consellations within the dark night of the inner sky.