The memory resurfaced. Days-gone-by illuminated my consciousness, beckoning me to leave the present and return to the past. “I miss that time,” I thought, as I remembered a lucid summer from two years ago, a time when I felt vibrantly alive.
I’m content with where I’m at, mentally, spiritually, and creatively, but the summer of 2018 had a different quality to it. I had a powerful spiritual awakening and a huge upgrade in my reality. I’d uncovered parts of myself I didn’t know existed, including levels of creativity never before experienced, and a vitality and aliveness which had me bouncing out of bed each day, eager to get to work on my business, to explore, to adventure.
An adventure it was; those summer months felt like learning how to live again, from a different place. My receptivity was wide open, I’d stumbled across a deeper reality, and I’d never felt more awake, more connected to myself, my spirituality, the universe surrounding me. I was seeing everything with fresh eyes, as if for the first time.
Such highs are common throughout the awakening process, but they aren’t ever-lasting. Since then I’ve continued to grow and develop, with similar moments of aliveness coming and going, with plenty of shadow work thrown in for good measure. Spiritual growth is circular, and although I feel the ways I’ve grown, there’s a certain quality about these months I can’t shake.
Last year was a challenging time and, though I was growing in many ways, I was disconnected from this particularly lucid aspect of my spiritual practice. Then, in moments of despair, when I felt like all was lost, a vision would appear. It was hazy at first, but increased in lucidity until I couldn’t ignore it. The vision was accompanied by an energy, a lifeform with its own presence.
When the vision appeared last summer, I found myself wistfully daydreaming of a return to the year before, to the way I felt, to what I experienced. It was so alluring, that this vision quickly became a fantasy, ushering me away from the present. I’d become attached to the “memory” of what was. I wasn’t getting the message my psyche was trying to tell me.
I didn’t realise this vision of my past self was trying to teach me something. It was a nudge which gave me clues on how to escape the rut I was stuck in. At the time, I didn’t realise this wasn’t a simple memory. It was psychic energy and a powerful archetype surfacing from my unconscious mind with a purpose.
Jung, The Unconscious, And Archetypes
Are you familiar with this process? You might be going through a difficult period and remember the way life used to be. “I remember how I was,” you may think, as visions of yourself as younger, more content, more confident, more aligned surface in the conscious mind. One way of viewing this is just as a memory, a recollection of a time you’d like to return to.
But there’s more to it than meets the mind’s eye. I’ll use Jungian psychology to explain why. According to Jung’s philosophy, there’s no such thing as coincidence when it comes to the psyche (aptly, Jung coined the term synchronicity). The mind is not presented with information randomly, but instead, what enters the conscious mind is part of a carefully orchestrated, intelligent design, overseen by the unconscious.
“Archetypes are the psychological DNA of humanity.”
For the uninitiated, Jung’s theory of the psyche consists of ego-consciousness (the elements of ourselves which we are aware) and the unconscious. The ego is the tip of the iceberg, a tiny fragment of the psyche we’re aware of. The unconscious, on the other hand, is a vast universe of the unseen, mysterious, deeper elements of mind, containing the blueprint of personhood and uniqueness.
Jung’s most notable theory is that the unconscious mind contains archetypes, universally applicable models of behaviour. It’s the psychological DNA of humanity. Jung called this foundation of mind the collective unconscious. Throughout history, these archetypes surface in numerous ways, not least in literature and myth. Some examples include the trickster, the hero, the child, the mother, the father.
According to Jung, the unconscious communicates in symbols and images. Symbols and images are most evident in dreams, but appear in waking life too: daydreams, random thoughts, emotions or sensations held in the body. Meditation is a powerful way to experience such symbols, evidenced by Jung’s practice of Active Imagination, a type of meditation used to communicate with the unconscious.
Memory And Presence
“We are so captivated by and entangled in our subjective consciousness that we have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions.”C.G. Jung, Man And His Symbols
Jung’s work is the best description I’ve discovered of the mind’s structure and contents. Last year, when the vision first appeared, my understanding of archetypes and the unconscious wasn’t as rich as it is today. I allowed the vision to marinate in my mind, without enquiring much further, or exploring the reasons why it was surfacing in the way it was.
Now, I understand enough to see how the surfacing of this vision is a message from my unconscious. Jung’s theory provides a language that has allowed me to navigate this inner-world and use these experiences to support self-actualisation and growth. When the memory returned a second year running (coincidentally at the same time of year) I knew I was presented with a gift.
The surfacing of this memory in my conscious mind was my psyche’s way of presenting me a lesson from the unconscious — remember what it feels like to be in flow, to be fully present, aligned with your path. As I reflected, it dawned on me: this was an archetype I was confusing as a memory. It was latent psychic energy waiting to be re-activated and integrated into my conscious mind.
Such is the magic and intelligence of the unconscious, at a time of struggle and disconnect, my psyche had presented me exactly what I needed. The archetype that I had embodied a few summers prior was knocking on the door of my mind, waiting for a reunion. I knew there was work to be done. And, as a result, I’ve developed a practical exercise which you can use to activate the archetype of the past you.
Learning From Past You
So how do you learn from the resurfacing of past you? The first step is to differentiate a memory from an archetypal symbol. Not all memories are archetypal, in much the same way not all dreams contain special symbols from the unconscious. The best way I can explain the difference, from my experience, is that archetypes contain a certain luminosity, a presence, a magnetism, that makes them stand out.
“Any time you ‘recollect’ a state from the past, you’re experiencing it in the present.”
It’s similar to falling in love: once you know, you know. The vision of a few summers ago was persistent. It didn’t surface once and evaporate: the more I ignored it, the more noticeable it became. I repeatedly saw an image of my “sacred” space, a lake I visited a lot during this awakening, a place I experienced several epiphanies, lying on the grass, looking up at the trees, bathing in sunlight.
In addition, every time the vision surfaced it was accompanied by an unmistakable energetic and emotional imprint. I felt the aliveness of it, and experienced echoes of the state I was in at that time, like a temporary shift in my perception. Often, we deceive ourselves when memories surface. We think we’re travelling back in time and forget the experience exists in the present.
Any time you “recollect” a state from the past, you’re experiencing it in the present. Remembering this allowed me to acknowledge the state I was experiencing with this vision, and the psychic energy accompanying it, was re-awakening in my present moment. This past self wasn’t lost — it had returned.
A Journal Technique For Exploring Archetypes
After acknowledging the archetype, I gave it a label to reinforce its presence. I chose “Awakened Ricky,” which, admittedly, is a working title. When you experience this, choose a label that fits: you might go for the magician or the athlete or the joker. This label’s job was simply to remind me that this wasn’t just a memory, but a powerful aspect of my unconscious mind, one I can tap into and ignite in my present day-to-day.
The next step was to enquire: just what did this archetype want to communicate? This is another fascinating aspect of Jung’s work. It’s not just that symbols present themselves without an additional meaning. Symbols are the branches that lead to the root of a significant message from the unconscious.
The theory of archetypes might take some getting used to, as they challenge the concept of a fixed “self” or personality. Instead, in Jungian terms, the unconscious is made of a multitude of different archetypes (though each person’s specific make-up and intensity is unique). Making this shift in understanding allows for a profound transformation in how you relate to your inner world.
That’s because archetypes have a life of their own — you can communicate with them! Imagine sitting down with someone you admire or dislike, and asking them questions to get to know them. In this instance, I admired Awakened Ricky, so I wanted to ask him questions about his mindset and his lifestyle — I wanted to learn from my past self.
Finer Qualities And Practical Steps
I’m not completely crazy. Jung explained the value in conversing with archetypes, which he encouraged clients to do, often guiding them with Active Imagination. You don’t need a therapist to do this, though. Journalling is a tool that also allows contents of the unconscious to “spill out” onto the page, all you need are few prompts.
The first prompt I used was to list the finer qualities of this archetype. Labels that surfaced included innocence, awe, dedication, responsibility, freedom, discipline, connection with nature.
It’s one thing to know what these qualities are, it’s another to embody them. So the next step was to list the practical, actionable steps that cultivated these qualities at the time they were experienced. The beauty is that I’d experienced the archetype before. I didn’t need to Google “x ways to cultivate the Awakening Ricky archetype,” my psyche already had the answer.
A note for this technique: Just as archetypes have a certain quality, pay attention when you journal. Certain “truths” will be accompanied by “aha” moments, as if answers are encoded in your words as they land on the page. This process is an exciting insight into the way you can communicate with your unconscious mind.
Bridging The Gap
“It is in learning to identify these great archetypal motifs within ourselves, learning to honor each one as a legitimate human trait, learning to live out the energy of each in a constructive way, that we make inner work a great odyssey of the spirit.”RObert Johnson, Inner Work
Once you have a list of finer qualities and the steps that cultivated these qualities, it’s time to bridge the gap. You’re looking to compare your “past self” with where you’re at now. This is a skillful form comparison, used for personal growth. In comparing, I noted certain lifestyle differences and key habits I cultivated then, but had neglected now.
Be wary of the pitfalls of comparison with this step. You aren’t comparing to highlight how much worse off you are now, or to fall into self-pity or regret. You’re comparing with a scientific mindset, to simply uncover practical, actionable goals. That requires equanimity towards what you uncover, and the attitude that nothing is lost.
A big area that surfaced was the amount I was journalling, and the amount of time I was spending in nature, alone, reflecting. I sometimes feel self-indulgent acknowledging I need “thinking time,” but this surfaced, too. Awakening Ricky prioritised thinking time, as a means of promoting clear thinking and creativity.
I came away from this process with a solid, practical and actionable list of all the steps I can take to embody this archetype again. It was a really fun exercise, because it felt like I was in the presence of a great teacher, when I was learning from my past self.
The unconscious is wise, it knows exactly what we need. Yearning for the past can be painful. Yet this process, of alchemising the sense of loss into an exercise to recharge and reignite your present, is a true act of empowerment. That this process is guided by the hidden aspects of the unconscious, a guiding force leading you back to yourself, is miraculous.
And, in experiencing that miracle, the archetype re-awakened.