“We don’t so much solve our problems as we outgrow them. We add capacities and experiences that eventually make us bigger than the problems.” ~Carl Jung
Before we get into archetypes, let’s answer a vital question. What would you do if you already had a billion dollars? Forget how or why you have the money. Forget what you would spend the money on. Focus on what you would do with your life now that you’re financially secure.
What do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What makes you hungry for more (other than money)? What fills you up with fiery enthusiasm and ecstatic joy?
The answer to these questions holds the secret to getting your shit together. Becoming curious about your answers, and then honing-in on how they relate to each other, can lead you to your life’s purpose. As Stephen Kotler said, “Passion exists at the intersection of three or more things you’re really curious about.” Discovering what you’re passionate about gives you purpose, and that’s the first step in getting your shit together.
If for any reason you can’t seem to get past this first step, just skip to the second step. The second step, practiced often enough, should get you to a place where you can answer vital questions.
The second step is giving your newfound purpose some direction, something your mind can hang its hat on. Your mind needs leverage. It needs guideposts and life-hooks and symbolic stepping stones. It needs archetypes.
Archetypes provide a powerful way to understand the human mind. They map out the multilayered manifestations of the mindscape. Because the human mind is anything but singular. It is multifariously plural.
A multitude of archetypal characters exist there. Most of which reside in the unconscious, working behind the scenes but influencing almost everything we do. They influence behavior, trigger emotions, and provide meaning.
“Archetypes,” wrote Jung, “are the living system of reactions and aptitudes that determine the individual’s life in invisible ways.” Archetypes are unconscious psychosocial symbols representing forms, themes, and concepts in the world.
Archetypes are ideas that resonate across a wide swathe of the human experience, despite differing conditions. They are kind of like a foundational human story, something we intuitively understand. They instinctively feel true.
Why is this? It’s because the human mind is a storytelling machine. It’s a symbolic generator par excellence, inputting symbols and outputting symbols almost entirely behind the scenes. Archetypes are just the mythological personification of these unconscious symbols. They are cross-cultural. So, when you think of archetypes, think about them as set patterns of behavior shared by all of humanity.
Here is a short list of the most common archetypes:
The Hero: warrior, adventurer, outlaw, revolutionary.
The Shadow: inner-darkness, darkside, fear, power.
The Trickster: fool, jester, shapeshifter, sacred clown.
The Eternal Child: inner child, beginner’s mind, youth, rebirth.
The Old Wise Man: wizard, magician, sage, monk.
The Old Wise Woman: Mother Nature, caregiver, nurturer, womb.
So how can archetypes help us get our shit together? The more we learn how archetypes work, the better we will be at identifying the patterns that influence most of human behavior. The more we understand archetypes, the more we are able to differentiate from them. Which is important because the more we differentiate from archetypes, the less unconscious influence they will have over us and the more conscious awareness we will have over them.
Differentiating archetypes can also help us recognize the influence that archetypes have over others. And the more we can identify the archetypes in others, the more we can see the patterns of behavior within ourselves. Conversely, the more we can witness these behavioral patterns in ourselves, the more understanding we’ll have for others.
Archetypes are like doorways to behavioral change. They are doorways to knowing the self. They get to the source of what ails us. They lead us down into the unconscious forces hidden beneath the surface.
Walking through the doorway of the Hero, for example, gives us courage. The archetype of the hero becomes a tool to leverage more courage into our lives. It plants the seed of a heroic bent. It gives us the ears needed to hear the call to adventure. It gives us the heart needed to take on heroic tasks. Most amazingly of all, it opens the doors into other archetypes. As Maya Angelou surmised, “Without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Or practice getting your shit together, for that matter.
Armed with the courage gained from cultivating the hero archetype, we become motivated to take more leaps of courage. The Shadow is the next logical step.
When we walk through the doorway of the Shadow, we discover a major part of our inner state. It is a culmination of our deepest fears, shames, regrets, and judgments, but it’s also the source of our greatest power, our hidden beauty, and our sacred self.