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We humans have a rich and vivid inner life mainly due to our extraordinary capacity for learning and our self-reflective minds. For better or for worse, our bodies have been designed to store information in the form of "memories" (particularly in the central nervous system) we have gathered from the environment.
Memories seem to exist forever even when we have apparently forgotten about them. If they do not reappear through recollection, they will manifest symbolically in the form of dreams, fantasies, mythology, or through our artistic expressions. Memories are the staff of learning, and learning is essential to our survival.
Our most ancient memories have become so entrenched in our being that we have given them a different name—"instincts." The instincts reside in the more basic parts of the brain closer to those areas that control all the involuntary functions of our organism such as our heart beat.
Carl Jung named these primordial expressions of the mind "archetypes" which are housed in the "collective unconscious." He used the word "collective" because he felt all humans have genetically inherited these ancient "memories" and, therefore, they are shared by all of us.
The collective unconscious is not limited to the shared cultural "memories" of human kind, but includes the "memories" of our evolutionary past. Consequently, in more recent years, the collective unconscious has been better defined as the "ecological unconscious" or "world unconscious."
Because in modern times humans have been able to design a controlled environment (called civilization) far different to the one our instincts interacted with in the past, they (the instincts) have become dormant. In essence, as Jung would say, we have lost a big chunk of our "soul," and consequently, the human experience in the modern world is often one of disconnection and depersonalization.
That some of these instincts have become dormant is actually a good thing since, if they were active, they would be too disruptive to social order. They still need, however, some form of expression because denying them a "voice," can result in extremely violent and uncaring behaviors.
The "memories" of the collective unconscious, along with our organic reactions to personal experiences and traumas (the personal unconscious), and the manifestation of our rational processes (the ego), compete for psychic attention often resulting in the incredible elaboration of dreams, fairy tales, myths, artistic creations, and modern mythological stories (such as Star Wars, The Lion King, and Avatar). This creative tendency of the psyche is necessary to allow some form of resolution and integration to all these parts of ourselves.
Often enough, in our busy lives, we do not process or act upon these attempts of the psyche to seek balance and harmony, and consequently we find ourselves in a constant state of inner conflict and confusion.
In my work, I use various mediums to allow the client to express and work through his/her personal inner story. These include dream work, art therapy, and sand tray. Regarding sand tray work, I have a rich collection of items representing the sacred, the secular, the inner, and the outer worlds so that the client can present his/her reality either straight forward or symbolically.