Entrance, Terrain, Trails, Companions, Discovery and Return.
The following narrative is inspired by an actual hike through a secluded valley in the Swiss Alps. In this enigmatic landscape, romantic wilderness intertwines with a rich cultural heritage marked by ancient trade routes. Elevated altitudes feature a globally unique concentration of precious minerals and gemstones, serving as metaphors for the hidden treasures within one’s soul that can be unearthed through introspection and self-discovery. The landscape within the valley is as beautiful as it is intimidating. Rapidly changing terrains present extreme contrasts, ranging from dark forests and stark canyons to relic-like boulders and cascading waterfalls, majestic glaciers and towering mountain peaks. Its natural drama serves as a physical metaphor for the emotional journey you’re embarking upon. The shifts in scenery mirror our varied emotional states, underscoring the soul’s innate craving for wonder, adventure, discovery, curiosity, risk, and even danger.
Threshold and Persona: Finding the entrance to this valley is no simple endeavor. It lies along a narrow path within a deep gorge, where a mighty stream flows. Questions about the stream’s origin, the terrain it traverses, and its wild beauty bewilder you. You step into this mystical space in the early morning fog, when dew still clings to the leaves from the previous night’s thunderstorm. The entrance is often discovered unconsciously — perhaps when something in life suddenly cracks open, or when a step is taken without full awareness. Yet every so often, the fog lifts, revealing the entrance. Whether it manifests as a moment of stillness, a whisper of curiosity, or the painful thud of existential dread, these are the compass points that guide us toward a journey of self-discovery. Standing at the threshold, you face the gateway to the remote valley of your soul. Much like the Persona — the mask you wear in society — this entry point serves as a necessary but not defining boundary. Crossing it symbolizes shedding the roles and expectations you’ve gathered from the external world, allowing you to step further into your own internal wilderness.
Dark Forests and Shadow Work: Right after the entrance you find yourself in the dark forest. It represents your shadow self. As you venture deeper into the terrain, those dark forests loom ahead, serving as intimidating mirrors to the shadow aspects of your psyche — those hidden or repressed elements that Carl Jung suggests we all possess. In this dense woodland, self-confrontation becomes inevitable. The obscure, shifting figures of the trees mimic your darker impulses and fears, forcing you to confront and integrate these facets. It’s here, amid this unsettling backdrop, that you achieve your first significant milestone on the journey of the soul.
Abysses and the Void: Past the forest, you reach terrifying abysses that seem to open into the void. These chasms represent the contra-sexual archetypes of the Anima and Animus. The abyss dares you to leap into the unknown and reconcile with these inner masculine or feminine aspects. It’s a perilous but necessary leap toward self-realization. At certain junctures, the ground gives way to gaping abysses that beckon you to step into the void. These are your existential crises, moments where you confront the ultimate unknowns about your own existence. Yet they are also places of potential transformation, echoing Jung’s idea of the death and rebirth archetype.
Floodplains and Resilicene: As you continue your walk, you now enter the high-altitude floodplains. Only the most resilient species survive here, thanks to the periodic flooding that leads to rapid shifts in water levels and soil conditions. In this challenging terrain, resilience is key. The quick adaptation to ever-changing and extreme conditions showcases a form of ‘superior adaptation’ for coping with adversity. These environments symbolize the soul’s capability to survive under extreme circumstances, embodying both the soul’s fragility and strength simultaneously. When the floods come, they serve as metaphors for moments when you are overwhelmed by your emotions. Yet, just like the resilient landscapes, there are aspects within you that possess the remarkable ability to adapt under these extreme conditions.
Alpine Pass and Crossing Boundaries: Navigating an alpine pass towards the border with Italy symbolizes the crossing of boundaries. Sometimes you must step into forbidden territory and break your own rules, which can be liberating and shouldn’t always be condemned by social or moral norms. Expansion and transgression are fundamental yearnings of the soul. Along the way, echoes of the past serve as reminders that your life is part of universal human experience. As you traverse these paths, you’re not alone but part of a long lineage of travelers — pilgrims, traders, and legendary explorers like Hannibal. Their journey adds depth to yours, humbling you and unlocking doors for introspection about your role in the larger continuum of human journeys.
Swamp and Temptation: The paths demand your full attention. In the lush meadows on high plateaus, you suddenly encounter hidden shallows and swampy areas. They are difficult to see, and their waters glisten invitingly after a strenuous ascent. Often, the most beautiful flowers grow here. These are the deceptive shallows within the soul — promising beauty and magic but also holding danger. A false step can pull you into the muddy depths, from which you might never escape.
Summits and Union: As you traverse these trails, they eventually lead upwards toward towering mountain peaks. These summits symbolize the Jungian idea of integrating opposites. Ascending to these heights is a transcendental experience, encapsulating the union of all dichotomies into a balanced whole. The real quest is not for material gains, but for inner balance, requiring you to face your own preconceptions along the way. Isolation and connection paradoxically intensify each other on this trail laden with risks and promises. Various trails lie before you, some steep, with dangerous passages over gorges and scree slopes, others challenging to navigate, at times even monotonous. Your journey is a treasure hunt for the “Self,” the Jungian unity of conscious and unconscious. By merging your translated elements, the trials along this introspective journey come to life, offering both challenges and revelations.
Butterflies and the Childs Soul: As you walk through the valley, you’re accompanied not just by solitude but also by the living world around you — the wind, the flowers, and the animals. The swarms of butterflies and the rare, shy wolf that may cross your path connect you to elemental realms of wildness and wonder, while the whistling of marmots fills the air above the tree line. In this remote setting, defiant blooms and thriving butterflies mirror your own resilience and the complexity of your inner journey. Although your quest is mostly solitary, these natural companions add layers of wonder and remind you that solitude can coexist with unexpected epiphanies and bursts of joy that can arise in introspection.
Accompanying me on this journey was also my eight-year-old daughter. Her presence illuminated the beauty and innocence of the child’s soul we all once had. In a moment of awe, I commented that the refreshing feeling comes from the waterfall’s fine mist, to which she responded, “The refreshing feeling doesn’t come from the water; it comes from the soft wind made by the wings of the butterflies.”
This duality of feeling isolated yet deeply connected reflects the journey of self-exploration. Though we may feel alone in our thoughts, we’re intrinsically connected to something much larger.
Highlands, gemstones, waterfalls and the harmonious Self: At the heart of the valley, you encounter a transcendent moment that unites conflicting elements within you, forging a harmonious self. This central plateau, a sanctuary featuring a serene brook and lush meadows, serves as a place for your soul to rest and reflect on life’s beauty. As you continue your exploration, your discoveries of cascading waterfalls and scattered semi-precious stones serve as vivid metaphors for your emotional landscape. Specifically, the waterfalls symbolize life’s wonder, while the gemstones signify emotional richness. Venturing further, you come upon endless highlands that seem to appear out of nowhere, paralleling those moments of unexpected clarity and happiness in your own journey. In Jungian terms, each landscape element enriches your lifelong process of individuation, serving as tangible markers of your inner progress. Reaching the heart of the valley, you experience a kind of epiphany, a transcendent function that unites your conflicting elements into a harmonious self.
Leaving the valley is as complicated as entering it. You return to the world outside fundamentally changed, with a newfound understanding of the vast universe that resides within you. The fog of daily life will eventually roll back in, obscuring the entrance once more. But you carry with you a map — etched not on paper, but on the very fabric of your being. And with that map, you know you can always find your way back, to continue your eternal walk in the remote valley of the soul. Your journey doesn’t end with self-realization. As you exit the valley and reenter the world, you bring back with you the wisdom and balance you’ve gained. Just as Jung posits that the individuated person contributes to society, your insights become your offering to the world. And like the spiral nature of individuation, you realize that this journey through the soul’s remote valley is one you may walk again, each time with deeper understanding and greater wholeness.
The snake and the Animal Soul: Just as I was leaving the valley, I stepped on the tail of one of the snakes that reside there. It quickly slithered away, but encountering a snake serves as another call to attention:
“If we seek our connection with the snake we come to the spinal cord and that points to the animal soul of man which leads him down into the darkness of the body, into the instinct which one meets in animal form in the outer world.” (Carl Jung)
© Written by Dr. Bettina Sieber 2023