The Psychic Fingerprint
Voice Dialogue seen from a James Hillman and Depth Psychology perspective
by J'aime ona Pangaia
“Once upon a time there was a tigress who was about to give birth. One day when she was out hunting she came upon a herd of goats. She gave chase and, even in her condition, managed to kill one of them. But the stress of the chase forced her into labor, and she died as she gave birth to a male cub. The goats, who had run away, returned when they sensed that the danger was over. Approaching the dead tigress, they discovered her newborn cub and adopted him into their herd.
The tiger cub grew up among the goats believing that he, too, was a goat. He bleated as well as he could, he smelled like a goat, and ate only vegetation; in every respect he behaved like a goat. Yet within him, as we are well aware, beat the heart of a tiger.
All went well until the day that an older tiger approached the goat herd and attacked and killed one of the goats. The rest of the goats ran away as soon as they say the old tiger, but our tiger/goat saw no reason to run away, of course, for he sensed no danger.
Although the old tiger was a veteran of many hunts, he had never in his life been as shocked as he was when he confronted this full-grown tiger who smelled like a goat, bleated like a goat, and in every other way, acted like a goat. Being a rather gruff old duffer, and not particularly sympathetic, the old tiger grabbed the young one by the scruff of the neck, dragged him to a nearby creek, and showed him his reflection in the water. But the young tiger was unimpressed with his own reflection; it meant nothing to him and he failed to see his similarity to the old tiger.
Frustrated by this lack of comprehension, the old tiger dragged the young one back to the place where he had made his kill. There he ripped a piece of meat from the dead goat and shoved it into the mouth of our young friend.
We can well imagine the young tiger’s shock and consternation. At first he gagged and tried spitting out the raw flesh, but the old tiger was determined to show the young one who he really was, so he made sure the cub swallowed this new food. When he was sure the cub had swallowed it all, the old tiger shoved another piece of meat into him, and this time there was a change.
Our young tiger now allowed himself to taste the raw flesh and the warm blood, and he ate this piece with gusto. When he finished chewing, the young tiger stretched, and then, for the first time in his young life, he let out a powerful roar- the roar of a jungle cat. Then the two tigers disappeared together into the forest.” (Stone & Stone, 1998, p.1-2)
One of Voice Dialogue’s originating myths, ‘the Roar of Awakening,’ speaks both to the sense of early conditions being the source of primary and disowned selves and to the inherent soul qualities of the individual that are waiting to be uncovered and reclaimed.
When we consider the reality of subpersonalities, or inner selves, in Voice Dialogue, one important aspect is their origins – how they came to exist in a person. We listen to their subjective stories about their past. In doing so, we usually focus on what are considered to be their formative experiences with an eye as to how it is that they came to be so primary, or disowned in that person’s life. Although the Stones also speak of other factors (the unique qualities or "nature" of the individual) that determine the dominance of certain selves, such as genetic predispositions, the existence of archetypes, the psychic fingerprint, and other more soul-related determining factors, they do not elaborate upon these. And, in the general practice of Voice Dialogue, more attention is given to "nurture", or the more apparent, formative factors than to "nature" or the incoming soul reality of the individual.
However, if we interact solely from this viewpoint, the emphasis upon "nurture" as opposed to "nature", we risk falling into a dualistic ‘self system’ that sees the world primarily in terms of traumas, mishaps and riveting experiences that happened to us (victim/ subject), and our reactive psychological efforts at managing pain and fear by learning and adopting (both consciously and subconsciously) beliefs and behaviors, i.e., Selves, that save us (hero) from a threatening, harsh world (other). Unless we’re vigilant, we can even mistake the Aware Ego Process as some kind of consciously aware hero who exists to manage life, by managing selves – “If I have an Aware Ego Process, I’ll be balanced and won’t suffer or fear anymore.”
This article takes an alternative and archetypal look at the selves, and their relationship to what we refer to in Voice Dialogue as the ‘psychic fingerprint’. In the practice of Voice Dialogue, more attention could be given over to the acknowledgment of our in-coming nature, which the Stones have termed the psychic fingerprint. This is a term coined to refer to something that has long been recognized by many cultures and philosophers (since the days of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle). It refers to that unique essence that we each are born with.
In other times and cultures, this essence has been considered to have been brought forward and fostered in life by something that has variously been called; our inner daimon, our spirit, our guiding angel, our genius, our soul’s image, the seed of the soul. (I’ll use these names interchangeably in this article). It has been seen as the carrier of our fate and destiny and is that which knows our path. As a carrier of our destiny, it is with us not only at birth, it also shines forth at every turn of events. As daimon, as soul image, it is timeless, so it is always existing at all points in our lives. We are recognizably born with it as an infant, but ‘it’ is already timeless, ageless, eternal - not infantile, not belonging exclusively to the child archetype.
We can look back over our lives and see that our essential soul print is always there. And, we can look forward and feel its call to us to become our genius more fully in time and substance. As we interact with the world, its peoples, the constraints and opportunities of life, this psychic fingerprint is what guides us in the guise of spontaneous urges, thrills, forebodings, stylistic inclinations, etc., that not only direct our fate, but also reveal something about our Psyche. It is most likely, given the pressing weight of evidence, that the aspirations of our soul (unlike that of our ego states) isn’t to live a happy, or contented or peaceful or even necessarily an egotistically self-aware life. It is, rather, to experience yet another expression of its creative potential here, in this life. Quite often this happens in ways that cause our conscious ego, living in a realm of dualities, to suffer and as a result, the ego can judge its fate harshly.
While the Voice Dialogue story of our becoming a personality has at its very beginning the recognition of this psychic fingerprint, we can also pay attention to how we hold the conceptual framework of our practice. An essential quality in the journey to being able to experience the Aware Ego Process, is the development of our ability to directly, consciously experience and relate to our (and others’) vulnerability with dispassionate /compassionate acceptance. It is commonly recognized that it is in this encounter with vulnerability that we most encounter our psychic fingerprint. Let me suggest that we also experience this soul essence in those parts of us we call the power selves, the primary self system.
If we were to absorb the perspectives of our philosophical ancestors, we would imagine that as the carrier of our unique Soul destiny, our physic fingerprint is also a magnet of sorts for not only the singular events of a life, but also for the powers of character that will best unfold them. In this case, those power selves, being archetypally derived, would have risen to the fore (primacy) as much through our ideas about early childhood conditioning as they are by the inner daimon that requires these very conditions – and inner selves - to fulfill its destiny for this life.
Here’s what James Hillman has to say about archetypes:
“Let us imagine archetypes as the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, the roots of the soul governing perspectives we have of ourselves and the world.”
“All ways of speaking of archetypes are translations from one metaphor to another. Even sober operational definitions in the language of science or logic are no less metaphorical than an image which presents the archetypes as root ideas, psychic organs, figures of myth, typical styles of existence, or dominant fantasies that govern consciousness. There are many other metaphors for describing them: immaterial potentials of structure, like invisible crystals in solution or form in plants that suddenly show forth under certain conditions; patterns of instinctual behavior like those in animals that direct actions along unswerving paths; the genres and topoi in literature; the recurring typicalities in history; the basic syndromes in psychiatry; the paradigmatic thought models in science; the world-wide figures, rituals and relationships in anthropology. But one thing is absolutely essential to the notion of archetypes: their emotional possessive effect, their bedazzlement of consciousness so that it becomes blind to its own stance." (Hillman 1976,, xix)
This is another raison d’etre for the Aware Ego Process; not only to consciously manage energetic forces, but also to simply open more fully to the energetic nature of life and our soul presence within it. There is an experience that accompanies the Aware Ego Process, the awareness that “I am not that/ I experience that.” There’s a feeling of both emptiness and fullness of presence. It’s here too, I sense, that we feel into an awareness of the tones of soul presence, a soul who has experiences of life through these psychic energies (selves) and mutable physical body experiences. In dreams too, when we feel the current that carries the images, and sense the overarching themes that are revealed in countless dream stories, we in our Aware Ego Process - that separation from and holding of all those story images – are apprehending our source waters.
Another relevant ancient tradition that practices from this awareness and integration of soul destiny (the soul’s course) is astrology. Richard Tarnas (Depth Psychologist and archetypal astrologer) goes a long way in his book, Cosmos and Psyche, towards redeeming the archetypal roots of astrology. In the book, he presents an exhaustive research on the horoscopes of historical personages. Horoscopes have historically been used to ascertain what are the archetypal energies that influence a person, place or events. The planets, constellations and their relationships are seen literally as cosmic reflections of archetypal energies. Through his research on illuminated figures in history, he clearly demonstrates how they were born for their times, as indicated by the planetary influences (archetypes) that predominated in their birth horoscope charts. They became important historical movers and shakers, he argues persuasively, because it was their soul destiny, as pictured in their charts. We could say that their psychic fingerprint is pictured archetypally in their charts. Their personalities (primary & disowned selves) uniquely coincided with the planetary influences of the time, and of the planet as a whole. He might argue that ‘the times’ brought forth these personalities, with their unique potentials; those people who were the ones most coherently in harmony with the archetypal energies of the day. In other words, the psychic fingerprint arrives in an archetypally harmonic way within the cosmic and physical universe.
How might all this influence the way in which we hold the philosophy and practice of Voice Dialogue? I’m not suggesting that we dismiss the ways that primary and disowned selves experience their histories, pains and triumphs; these stories that selves tell are living dreams, myths and personal realities that make up part of their nature as much as how they inhabit the body or interrelate with the environment or others. And, at the same time, we would do well to listen to these stories with a mythically minded ear, as we do other dreams. We can pay attention to the possibility that the primary selves of a person are as much a reflection of early life experience as they are of a soul who needed those particular early experiences so that those very power selves (and their abilities) would rise to the foreground.
In the fairy tale told at the opening of this article, the Stones tell a story about losing touch with one’s true nature, one’s destiny (in this case, to be a tiger), one’s psychic fingerprint, and the roar of awakening back to that essence. Being a tale (“once upon a time”), it is, like all dreams and myths, richly layered. Its different layers offer up unique dimensions of meaning. This reading of the tale alerts us to an archetypal drama of being confused and then clear, of being false and then true, of being ignorant/innocent and then informed/initiated.
Engaging this story from yet another layer, we might also consider it actually to be part of this young tiger’s psychic fingerprint, his soul’s nature, to actualize a destiny that includes being orphaned, lost to himself, being found by an elder, initiated and becoming a being who can know and hold two paradoxical true energies, that of tiger and goat.
His was a different fate than that of the old tiger who finds him. This orphaning and adoption and conditioning by “an other’ is not merely a loss, a trauma to overcome. It is an essential condition, a gift even, and necessary for his larger soul potential to exist. The whorls of his psychic fingerprint had the map written through it of his potentials for both a tiger and a goat life. There was something in those whorls that required orphaning and adoption outside the tribe of tigers, and mentoring in the ways of the goat so that those qualities of the psychic fingerprint, the soul’s image could more fully be lived. It was equally then, part of his destiny to be found, and reclaimed, and awakened to his tiger potential as well. We could say that his psychic fingerprint was destined to eventually express both tiger and goat power energies. His primary goat self is part of his soul’s true nature, not merely a result of social conditioning by the herd.
The same holds true for us as we relate to the stories of our life. I encourage us to expand beyond a trauma focus as the only model for how we came to be who we think we are, to include a more nuanced memory of and feeling for our soulful histories and pathways and its revelations. This means that we begin to more fully appreciate primary selves as also being expressions of our psychic fingerprint. This means that as we develop a capacity for an Aware Ego Process, there’s as much a possible quality of consciously surrendering to and being with, as there is controlling/managing of energies with awareness.
The old man tiger acts from a different destiny, a different archetype. Being a fairy tale old tiger, he has always been old. His purpose in the story is to maintain the natural order, the rules of engagement: tigers should be tigers, and goats, goats. He initiates the young tiger into this proper order, and back into tiger-hood. The old tiger is the Senex, the old man who maintains traditions. His is Saturn energy. He is vulnerable about loss of order in the kingdom, although he doesn’t reveal his vulnerability. His path, his soul’s work is also to find someone who is lost, errant, and teach him, even impose , the rules and the traditions. This is one of his primary selves. Would this old tiger act differently with an Aware Ego Process, if he knew of his underlying vulnerability? Perhaps not, perhaps his Aware Ego Process would allow him to surrender to a psychic fingerprinting that comes to be a Senex, an initiator for that goat-tiger.
Using this story of the goat-tiger, our own Aware Ego Process would have us discover both our old and young tigers, and our goat. The story exists the way myths do; they happened. We too live out myths, myths that are not to be, nor can be controlled; we ‘happen’. The Aware Ego Process helps us to better appreciate, enjoy, suffer, live for and through our psychic fingerprint, our soul’s image, with all its incarnated character cast of selves and senses. Taking more account of our psychic fingerprint as a force of soul causes us to consider the relationship of ego, even in an Aware Ego Process, with our soul nature.
As teachers and facilitators of Voice Dialogue, we might orient our subjects (students/clients) to notice how our power selves exist not only as protectors from loss and suffering, but also how they fulfill certain kinds of experience. A primary goat self may tell a story about needing to be goat-like to compensate for a loss, or to assure its belonging with the herd. However, as we continue to look, it may also tell of simply enjoying the fine love of being an ordinary herd being, and of being sure, unmovable, even stubborn And the primary old tiger self may tell a story about how the world goes to hell in a hand-basket when order isn’t maintained, and, from the point of view of the soul, it speaks of the beauty of things lining up in a predictable, stable, orderly manner.
Then, ahhh, so it is. An aspect of soul has been painted, rendered and become itself in space, as the quality of goat-like fixedness, or of Order itself, not simply confined to the borders of skin and ego self, but as soul becoming an event in time and space.
2012 Published in The Voice Dialogue Anthology: Explorations of the Psychology of Selves and the Aware Ego Process. Edited by Dassie Hoffman, Ph.D
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