How to journal to your soul


If you are a seeker wanting to understand yourself better, improve your life, deepen your spiritual side, and listen to your soul to uncover your inner self, you can learn a lot from taking up your pen and journaling.

With your words, you can give life to what you see, what you hear, what you touch. You can transform what is on the outside to something inside.

As your daily life pulls you in a multitude of directions, journal writing centres you. It makes you slow down. It makes you look anew at the world around you. Art JournalImagine you are by a river and you spot an unusual rock at the water’s edge. From afar it looks just like all the other rocks on the river bed. But, if you pick it up, and hold it in your hand, feel its roughness, consider its age (1 million or billion years old?), how amazing that you can hold something so incredible in your hand. And in studying it… it becomes closer to you. You wonder about its age, what it has been through to get here. You sense its mystery.

When you write about it you can consider your own journey, the rough parts, and the good times, your own mystery. You bring the two worlds together, the visible (the rock), and the invisible (your inner world).

If you were to just stand by the riverside, in the sunshine, maybe pick the rock up and drop it back into the river, if you didn’t pay closer attention – to the rock and the sparkling water – you would allow them to retreat into forgetfulness. Anyone can see such details then forget them straight away. To journal is to look for meaning in your experiences and let them lead you to your soul.

So what is the best way to journal? There is only one way and that is your way. Maybe you’ll treat yourself to a quality book that feels good to touch, or maybe you’ll type on your phone. Only you know the best way to start. I like to use a softback red Moleskine book with plain pages, and a fountain or calligraphy pen. I also keep a smaller book in my bag when I go out walking. I write about what I see, what I feel, how the early morning sun sparkles on the river, a conversation, a dream, my hopes, and plans.

Each reflection deepens as I write it down. Each journal entry is a step closer to my soul, toward self-discovery. Sometimes I paint pictures and write, sometimes I just write. You don’t need to be an artist to draw simple sketches, Sometimes I might attach a flower or a leaf too.

When you write in a journal think of it as being like going for a walk without any purpose or direction. You might walk a while, then you stop, find a fragment, something that caught your awareness. Eventually, you will have many fragments, of your soul, of your awareness, of your place in this world. Writing in a journal gives you insights into who you are, who you were, and who you can become.

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Everything you need is within you...


The day you are born a seed is planted. The seed is your unique gift to the world. It wants to grow, transform itself, and reach its full potential. It has a natural energy that you can tap into. It is up to you to make the seed thrive, to express your uniqueness and share your gift with the world. 

You have a destiny to fulfil. And, the stronger your drive to achieve your full potential the more likely you are to succeed.

AcornFailure to thrive usually means you have succumbed to an opposing force - social pressures to conform, family misguidedly directing you to their choice of career path. You end up choosing a career path that isn’t what you truly want. Your heart won’t be in it and you become increasingly less engaged. You start to see pleasure as something that is obtained outside work.

You have a voice within that emanates from your individuality and it calls you to a particular form of work or career. If you learn to listen you will develop a sense of your vocation. You will see it as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line. Some side routes will pull you more than others and eventually you will find a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly. It will feel right. And, because you are doing what you love you will learn more quickly and more deeply. You will have a sense of purpose and direction. 

In order to truly thrive you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it.

But what if you have someone in your life that constantly holds you back and stunts your growth? Don’t be with them, don’t make them the centre point of your life. If you stay with them you will be a cowering creature who is just a shadow of the person you really are.

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Becoming conscious and easing anxiety


“See, how cruel the whites look,” said Hopi elder, Mountain Lake. He was speaking to Carl Jung who visited the Pueblos of Taos, New Mexico in 1925. “Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think Indian Artthat they are mad.”

Carl Jung asked the elder why he thought the whites were all mad.

“They say that they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why of course. What do you think with?” Jung asked in surprise.

“We think here,” Mountain Lake said, indicating his heart.

This undercurrent of constant unease started long before Western industrial civilisation. It was there in the time of Jesus, and the time of Buddha, and long before that. “Why are you always anxious?” jesus asked his disciples. “Can anxious thought add a single day to your life?” Buddha, echoed this by teaching that the root of all suffering is to be found in our constant wanting and craving.

Resistance to consciousness is a collective dysfunction – a behaviour pattern developed over generations in our families – and it is intrinsically connected to our loss of awareness and forms the basis of our dehumanised, unconscious industrial civilisation. Freud also recognised the existence of this undercurrent of unease and he wrote about it in his book Civilisation and its discontents, but he did not recognise the true root of the unease and failed to notice that freedom from it is possible. This collective dysfunction has created a very unhappy civilisation that has become a threat not only to itself but also to all life on the planet.

Freedom from this unease is possible by becoming more conscious - or individuated - which I will cover in future posts.

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There is nothing with which we are not linked

We are all rooted in deep, invisible ground…somehow connected with animals, trees, mountains, meadows, and running water. We should draw from this a sense of security and the conviction that here is solid ground on which we stand.

LinkedGradually, we can learn to welcome moments that both move and stimulate us. And welcome too, all the different feelings and moods, happy or painful, which arise from them and follow in their wake.Once the bustle of life dies down we are left just with the thoughts and feelings inside us. If we pause, listen, watch, and feel, we can really enjoy those moments. We can start to understand that our feelings and moods and intuition are the beating heart of our link with the world. We can breathe more deeply and know that our mind has really begun to exist.

These tiny, almost insignificant, moments can change us. They are a silent metamorphosis, fragments of existence, like feathers of life drifting down from the sky. They are moments that can thrill and transform us.

Jung understood the importance of our connection with the earth. He said: “At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons. There is nothing with which I am not linked.” MDR P225.

In nature, nothing is isolated. If we have lost our connection with Nature, we have lost our connection with ourselves.

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Change yourself, change the world

Carl Jung loved to tell the story of the Rain Maker, which he was told by Richard Wilhelm, the first man to translate the I-Ching and bring it into the western world.

Richard Wilhelm was in a remote Chinese village that was suffering from a most unusually prolonged drought. Everything had been done to put an end to it, and every kind of prayer and charm had been used, but all to no avail. So the elders of the village told Wilhelm that the only thing to do now was to send for a rainmaker from a distance. This interested him enormously and he was careful to be present when the rainmaker arrived. He came in a covered car, a small wizened old man. He got out of the car, sniffed the air in distaste, then asked for a cottage on the outskirts of the village. He made the condition that no one should disturb him and that his food should be put down outside the door. Nothing was heard of him for Fish Yin and Yang three days, then everyone woke up to a downpour of rain. It even snowed, which was unknown at that time of year. Wilhelm was greatly impressed and sought out the rainmaker, who had now come out of his seclusion. Wilhelm asked him in wonder: "So you can make rain?" The old man scoffed at the very idea and said: "of course he could not”. "But there was the most persistent drought until you came," Wilhelm retorted, "and then -- within three days… it rains?" "Oh," replied the old man, "that was something quite different. You see, I come from a region where everything is in order, it rains when it should and is fine when that is needed, and the people also are in order and in themselves. But that was not the case with the people here, they were all out of Tao and out of themselves. I was at once infected when I arrived, so I had to be quite alone until I was once more in Tao, and then naturally it rained!"

The idea that if one is in the “Tao” then one’s path in the external world is unencumbered, and, inversely, when one encounters a disturbance in the world, it is usually indicative of an inner disturbance. 

If we think psychologically, we are absolutely convinced that things quite naturally happen this way (such as the rainmaker’s ability to create rain). If we have the right attitude then the right things happen. We don’t make it right, it is just right, and we feel it has to happen in this way. It is just as if we were inside of things. If we feel right, that things must turn up, it fits in. It is only when we have a wrong attitude that we feel that things do not fit in, that they are strange. If someone says that in his surroundings the wrong things always happen, it is him who is wrong, he is not in Tao; if he was in Tao, he would feel that things are as they have to be. Sometimes we find ourselves in a valley of darkness, dark things happen, but dark things belong there, they are what must happen then; they are nonetheless in Tao.

Taoist ethics are concerned less with doing good acts than becoming a good person who lives in harmony with all things and people.

If we want to live well we should take all our decisions in the context of the Tao, trying to see what will fit best with the natural order of things.

Taoists thus always do what is required by events and their context, but they only do what is required, no more.

But what is required may be a lot less than modern Westerners think. From the perspective of classical Taoism, Western humanism makes the mistake of assuming that the ability to intervene in life's events translates into a moral duty to do so.

Humans are indeed capable of intervening in life's events, but the evidence of life, which humans constantly ignore, is that such intervention is destructive to all involved and that we therefore have a moral duty to refrain from taking such actions.

So, in theory at least, Taoists tend not to initiate action - but wait for events to make action necessary - and avoid letting their own desires and compulsions push them into doing things. Good behaviour is an essential part not only of self-improvement but of improving the world as a whole.

The Taoist ideal is for a person to take action by changing themselves, and thus becoming an example of the good life to others.

They should develop themselves so that they live their life in complete harmony with the universe. So the philosophy is not to do good things, but to become a good person.

Changing oneself in that way will make the world a better place because as a person behaves well towards other people and the world, the community will respond by becoming better itself.

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How well do you know yourself?

I’ve collected some rocks ready to paint. It would be easy to determine the average weight of these stones and get an average weight of, let’s say 200 grams. But this tells me very little about the real nature of each individual rock and it’s unlikely any one rock actually weighs 200 grams. With stones, as with people, it is not the universal and regular that characterise the individual, but rather the unique. As I listen to the news about the coronavirus I realise that we too can be regarded as a comparative unit, as an abstract picture of “a man” from which all individual features have been removed. But to understand an individual human being we much lay aside all scientific knowledge of the “average man” and discard all Memoriestheories in order to adopt a completely new and unprejudiced attitude.

We must approach the task of understanding with a free and open mind. Whereas knowledge of mankind or insight into human character or behaviour, pre-supposes all sorts of knowledge about humans in general, understanding ourselves as an individual, with all our flaws and unique qualities requires us to turn a blind eye to scientific knowledge. If the psychologist wants to classify his patient scientifically but also to understand him as a human being he has an internal conflict of duty between knowledge and understanding. He cannot take an either/or stance but needs a kind of two-way thinking doing one thing while not losing sight of the other.

Do you ‘follow the crowd’ behaving in a certain way so as to ‘fit in’ and so losing sight of the “I” or individual that you truly are? (You might not realise you are doing it). In school we are taught conformity: “This is how you do it”. We were trained to do repetitive work in factories, in a system designed for the industrial age, a system designed to produce a lot of people who act the same, think the same, and look the same.

What most of us call “self-knowledge” is actually very limited knowledge. Most of it is dependent on social factors, of what goes on in the human psyche. We often come up with the prejudice that such and such a thing “never happens in our family” or “with us” or with our friends and acquaintances. And we also have equally illusory assumptions about alleged qualities we believe we have which merely serve to cover up the true facts of the case.

Your ego is the centre of your field of consciousness, Think of it as your manager, organising your thoughts, feelings, senses, and intuition, and regulating access to your memory. It is the part that links your inner and outer worlds together, forming how you relate to that which is external to you.

People often think they know themselves well, but, in truth, they are confusing “self-knowledge” with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Our ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious (which is huge) and its contents. People tend to measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social circle knows of himself, not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them deep in their unconscious. As with his body, although he lives in it and with it constantly, the average person knows very little about it.

Our unconscious mind is far bigger than our conscious mind and is immune to conscious criticism and control. We are defenceless and open to all kinds of influences and psychic infections. As with all dangers, we can guard against the risk of psychic infection only when we know what is attacking us, and how, and from where and when the attack will come.

Self-knowledge is a matter of knowing individual facts. Theories are not much use, they are often statistical, or an ideal average, so ignoring all the exceptions at either end of the scale and just providing an abstract mean. The mean can be quite valid though it doesn’t necessarily exist in reality.

It’s like when we look at a tree and say, “That is an oak tree”, or “That is a pine tree”. The naming of the tree, which is botanical knowledge, has so conditioned your mind that the word comes between you and you actually seeing the tree.

It is all but impossible to describe the new awareness that comes when words, and our desire to understand and control, are abandoned and we have the courage to open our minds. We are so much more than we think we are. It might be a good idea, if, like the White Queen, we practiced believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast, for we are called on to believe what to many people is impossible. But, instead of rejoicing in this glorious "impossible" which gives meaning and dignity to our lives, we try to domesticate our lives/Nature/the Universe, to make everything comprehensible to our finite minds.

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This is a time to slow down and reflect


The pandemic is creating change by forcing us to slow down and spend more time in personal reflection.

We didn’t heed the warnings about our unsustainable lifestyles and we caused Nature to reach a tipping point whereby it sought to regain balance.

With more quiet time it is a time for personal reflection, stillness, and gratitude. We have the opportunity to take a step back and think about who we are, both as individuals and as a society. Stone

We knew our old lifestyles were unsustainable but habits of mind don’t change easily.

And, as our frenzied lifestyles come to a stop we can find it hard to sit quietly in a chair for ten minutes. Many of us will remain slaves to our smartphones and will check the news every few minutes and look for updates on Facebook.

We are entering an era of slowness and quiet. We can let our minds wander and think about what they want to think about. We have time to consider where we are going and what we believe in and what it is that we really want.

Carl Jung did his most creative thinking and writing when he took time away from his busy practice in Zurich and spent time at his country house in Bollingen, Switzerland.

As Nature comes back into balance so must we. We need to restore our inner-selves, the part of us that imagines, dreams, and explores. We need to answer our soul when it asks, ”Who am I?” and “What is important to me?” We need a slowness. Self-reflection should not be something we just do now, during the crisis, and then forget about it. It should be an ongoing part of a life lived deliberately.

For years to come we will be trying to rebuild our broken world, but a slower, more creative lifestyle, can help put the pieces back together.

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Rebuilding our broken world


We have been living in a world that has been getting more and more out of balance.

In rebuilding our broken world, we will have the chance to choose a less hurried life, but habits of mind and lifestyle do not change easily. Without noticing, we are in danger of slowly slipping back into the routines of our lives. We will again become accustomed to being in a noisy city or workplace, and we could soon forget how nurturing it feels to find a quiet place and a time of silence.

A powerful force had to strike to awaken us from our slumber. And now we have been struck we have a chance to take a step back and notice how we have been living too fast, how we lost the connection with our inner selves and chased instead speed, efficiency, money, hyper-connectivity, and "progress". The moment we choose consciousness rather than the tired out collective consciousness is when we start to think for ourselves. It's when we stop our lives unfolding according to someone else’s plan. It’s a transformative moment. It’s when we get to choose the life that’s ours and ours alone.

For many of us now, at home, alone, time and space have opened up in our minds. Daily routines have been interrupted as we enter an unstructured, free-floating, beckoning time. We have been freed from the prison of our time-driven lives. There is something to be regained, something subtle, delicate even, and that is the restoration of our inner selves. In the stillness and the slowness, we can take the time to listen to our inner selves and to the breathing of our spirit. 

For years we will be rebuilding our broken world. Maybe a slower lifestyle will help us put the pieces back together in the right places this time. Perhaps a more contemplative, deliberate way of living can become permanent.

In rebuilding our broken world we will have the chance to choose a less hurried life.

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The power our past has on our relationships


Like it or not, your past relationships seep into your present ones.

Therapists often find that patients will project on them their own past relationships, particularly those with parents, much like projecting a movie on a blank screen. The therapeutic process then is in part about unraveling all these past relationships and distortions.

Although this is common knowledge for therapists the phenomenon is not limited to the therapy setting. It is something that happens frequently (possibly every time) in our personal relationships. It is particularly common in that critical first-impression early stage of a relationship. Our impressions of others are never neutral but always filtered through the lens of other relationships, both past, and present, that have had an impact on our lives. We can and do transfer onto the other person an aspect of our own psychology.

Transference is a complex and multi-layered phenomenon but to simplify it, your new date might remind you of your ex in the way he seems to dominate the conversation, or your work colleague reminds you of the girl at school who bullied you. Sometimes the triggers may be more subtle - the new date has eyes like your father or his tone of voice reminds you of your brother; or your neighbour has the same sarcastic sense of humour as someone else you used to know.

Often these impressions, the contrasts, and comparisons are not fully conscious but they are powerful and form the basis for our initial attraction (or lack of). Our history of relationships is stored symbolically in our unconscious and influences us without us realising it.

Understanding its effect can give us a clue of why we get certain problems in relationships.

Do you find that you’re always attracted to narcissists or turned off by people who seem too nice or too passive? Are you always intimidated by people in authority?

We see and judge people through the filter of transference.  We are triggered both positively and negatively by our past relationships. We're moving beyond sexual chemistry and emotionally making assumptions, over-emphasising and likely distorting at least one aspect of the other's personality. This can blind us from seeing the real person beneath. He might seem, for example, to be non-judgmental and supportive compared to your ex, only for you to realise later that this stance is a cover for his being very passive and indecisive. Similarly, her assertiveness, which you initially found attractive, blinds you from seeing how controlling she can be.

So how can you stop repeating past mistakes? If you find yourself always getting involved with narcissists and always winding up getting hurt, you are just re-injuring that old wound, rather than healing it. Similarly, that strong and automatic attraction to the laid-back man or assertive woman tells you something that you may need.

This is important information. By seeing and understanding these patterns, you can make them conscious, rather than unconscious or semi-conscious choices.

You can actively and directly work on your past by getting some closure with your past relationships: You can have an adult conversation with your ex or with a parent about past grievances, or if this is not possible, you could write a letter to get these old feelings out on a page and out of your head. You don’t have to post it.

You could also consider therapy. As Jung Said, “Medical treatment of the transference gives the patient a priceless opportunity to withdraw his projections, to make good his losses, and to integrate his personality”. Carl Jung, CW 16, Para 420.

Transference is a natural psychological process, sometimes for the good and other times for the bad. You can’t control or prevent it. However, by becoming conscious of your transference patterns, you can learn a lot about your unconscious psyche: how it operates, what attracts it, and what repels it. You can come to understand your relationships on a much deeper and psychological level. Through becoming conscious of your transference patterns you have the opportunity to be more self-aware and in a better position to give the gift of your soul to others.

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Active imagination and the journey to wholeness

Active Imagination

Characters in our dreams can be seen as a meeting between our everyday waking Self, and parts of our Self normally outside consciousness.

The unconscious mind is vast and it functions much faster than the conscious mind. It isn’t controlled by the ego, and, very often, it has very different perceptions about our experience and lives than does the waking mind.

In dreams there is an encounter between the waking ego, or, at least a subset of it that we can call the 'dream ego' and the unconscious mind.

What do these characters in our dreams want?

That’s often the biggest and most important question to ask of characters who appear in our dreams.

We can expect that they want something different from the ego.  The dream is acting as a corrective on the perspective and attitude of the ego.  We need to incorporate part of that perspective into consciousness.

We must take dreams seriously, but combine them with the awareness of our ego.  We need to connect the ego’s perspective with the perspective of the unconscious mind presented in dreams.

Dreams lead us to meet the unknown or forgotten parts of ourselves.  The dream bids us to take a certain crucial kind of responsibility, by finding an attitude that takes the ego seriously but also considers the deeper self.  This is a fundamental part of the journey to wholeness.

One of the very striking aspects of the meaning of dreams is the on-going dialogue between the conscious and unconscious minds.  If we start to understand and have dialogue with our dreams, we often find that subsequent dreams reflect our understanding and actions.  Often the encounter with the 'other me' in dreams is only one of a series of connected dreams. The dialogue goes on, as we take in more of the perspective of the unconscious mind.  As we practice conversing with our unconscious with time we become more and more attuned to the meaning of that dialogue.

The things we see in our dreams are not signs that represent one specific idea, but rather fluid images to which we ascribe meaning based on our individual experiences. Dreams may reveal truths, philosophical revelations, illusions, fantasies, memoires, plans, irrational experiences or even prophetic visions.

The images in our dreams are ultimately representations of our own unconscious. Although they come from our individual minds, many images are manifestations of universal archetypes that represent unconscious attitudes hidden to our conscious selves. 

In his last major work, written when he was 81, titled Mysterium Coniunctionis, The Mystery of Conjunction, or unification, the bringing together of opposites (CW 14, paragraph 706), Jung gives a careful description of active imagination and dreams. He sees active imagination as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious. The following are five direct quotes from the long paragraph in Mysterium Coniunctionis simplifying it to five suggested steps that we can follow in our own active imagination.

Five steps to active imagination:

  1. “Choose a dream or some other fantasy-image and concentrate on it by simply catching hold of it and looking at it…”
  2. “You then fix this image in the mind. Usually it will alter as the mere fact of contemplating it animates it…”
  3. “A chain of fantasy ideas develops and gradually takes on a dramatic character… At first it consists of projected figures and these images are observed like scenes in the theatre…”
  4. “If the observer understands that his own drama is being performed on this inner stage…he will take part in the play instead of just sitting in a theatre…”
  5. “Fix the whole procedure in writing at the time of occurrence for you then have ocular evidence that will effectively counteract tendency to self-deception…”

To simplify, the five steps are:

  1. Choose a dream or other fantasy image.
  2. Fix it in your mind.
  3. Watch it take on a dramatic character
  4. Take part in the play
  5. Write it down

To do this effectively you must be in a meditative state. Your conscious mind needs to be relaxed, and ready to let you enter the inner world of your imagination. Sit quietly and let go of your worries, thoughts, and preoccupations. Once you are in this state, choose an image, hold onto it, watch it take life. Put it on the stage of your imagination. Take part in the play and then write down what happened. It is important to write it down because this helps us remember and learn from the experience.

When we speak to our images, they surprise us. And when we write it down, we are writing a story, the story of our encounter with our soul.

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