Working with the Archetypal Energy of Endings—The Death Principle

If you are resisting change, and you would like to overcome that resistance, you may benefit from using shamanic and Jungian techniques for working with the archetype of death, also known as the death principle. The death principle is the force or energy of endings. By engaging with it, you may find you are able to make the changes you seek without being sabotaged by your unconscious desires and your fears.

When working with clients, I have often taken them on shamanic journeys to encounter the death principle to see what they could learn from it and bring back from the experience to fuel a new and better story for themselves. It has been interesting to see how this archetypal energy has manifested in symbolic form: as a faceless bureaucrat seated in an old-fashioned, abandoned schoolroom; as a magnificent and wise cobra; or something else unexpected. Death may be represented in many different ways by your unconscious mind, which has associations your conscious mind may not understand until you spend some time with the symbols you encounter and let them speak to you. I like to use a process called dialoguing to engage manifestations of archetypal energies, ask questions, and learn from them. A Jungian would say the answer comes from the hidden realms of your unconscious. A shaman might say this encounter takes place in the invisible world beyond the senses.

In my book Change Your Story, Change Your LifeI give instructions for a journey you can take to meet the archetypal energy of death, a journey that allows your unconscious mind to suggest the form of this archetypal energy of endings and to converse with it. I suggest you open your mind to whatever form this energy takes. When you recognize it as Death, remember that is simply another archetypal energy that you need not shrink from. It is part of the human experience and has much to teach you and offer you. In a dialogue, you might ask it, “What in my life is not serving me and needs to be pruned away for me to flourish?” and wait for the answer. Then, you might ask for what death wants from you, and what you can do for it. Finally, you might request from death that which you desire. Perhaps you will not get what you want, but perhaps you will be given what you need to receive.

One of my clients said, “During a journey to meet death, I realized that death is an aspect of Source and that it is a very brightly illumined, inviting space. By the end of the journey, I felt that death and life are the same.” Others have said they felt stronger and renewed after encountering and working with the death principle.

Sometimes, the changes you need to make in your life are so large they completely overwhelm you and generate fear so great you can’t bear to consider the losses you will face. You might have to leave behind a relationship, vocation, or situation that you have woven into your identity. Who will you be if you let go? You might even have to say good-bye to a loved one who is in a dying process. How will you go on after such a huge loss? The conscious mind prefers not to ponder a life without the one you love, or a life in which you are exquisitely aware of your own mortality. Yet if you work with the death principle, you may find you are better able to accept the uncertainties of life and even the losses that might otherwise devastate you.

Although it can be difficult to let go of what once gave you pleasure, and to accept that life brings changes you can’t always control or even influence in any significant way, working with the death principle helps you to write a new and better story for yourself than the one that seems to be unfolding before you, outside of your control. Death and endings help us to more deeply appreciate what we have and to commit to living more consciously and loving more deeply. Often, in those last days of a loved one’s life, we are able to see them differently and appreciate them in ways we couldn’t when it seemed they would be around forever. Whether you have just lost someone, or are about to, or are dealing with your own fear of your time in this life running out, I hope you will open up to the possibility of working with the death principle.

Frightening though death and endings may be, I have found that when we recognize that death is an inevitable part of life, part of the interconnectedness of all things, we write better stories for ourselves and inhabit them more easily. We can then better appreciate the preciousness of every moment. Those gifts are far too valuable for us to run from the prospect of dialoguing with the energy of endings. Consider what it can teach you, and how it might help you live more fully and more in synch with how you say you want to live.



Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, a businessman, and a shamanic practitioner, author, and philanthropist funding over 60 charities and more than 850 past and current Greer Scholars. He has taught at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and been on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being.


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