Hello, Dr. Anita Johnston here. I’m in Palau, Nikko Bay and I’m about ready to go diving into an underwater garden and I’m taking you with me. One of the rock islands stands alone but there’s a whole cluster of them surrounded by coral reefs, which are amazing. This one is called Rembrandt’s Cove.
Diving underwater feels so much to me like descending into a dream. The laws of the universe don’t seem to apply here. Gravity is different. Time gets altered. Sounds have another frequency and words show up as internal dialogues in my own mind. Actually, beneath the water is a fantastic and beautiful world depending entirely on an unusual complex web of interrelationships between plants and animals.
This entire reef has been formed very slowly over thousands and thousands of years through an interesting partnership between huge colonies of diverse coral animals that come in all shapes and sizes and they partner with the green algae, a tiny plant that lives in the tissues of the coral animal. The algae uses photosynthesis to provide nutrients and oxygen for the coral and the coral provides a protective environment for the algae and the carbon dioxide it needs to consume. It is the algae that gives the corals the brilliant colors that we see.
While in normal conditions the coral and the algae coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship but when the coral is stressed by the water becoming too warm or excessively low tides, for example, it dispels the algae cells and turns white. If the disruption of the coral/algae symbiosis occurs for too long a period of time it can be disastrous and even lead to the death of the coral.
Now, this is not unlike what happens to our psyche when the symbiotic relationship between our conscious mind and our unconscious mind can get disrupted. Our human consciousness like the coral reefs has developed slowly over thousands and thousands of years and like the reefs much of the psyche still exists below the surface of our conscious awareness.
According to Carl Jung the unconscious mind and the conscious mind must be interconnected and move together if we want a balanced life. If they split apart and are not working together, psychological disturbances can occur. He believed that the dream images and the symbols we encounter when we sleep are the essential message carriers from the instinctive to the rational part of the human mind, and that the interpretation of these messages is what enriches and nourishes our conscious mind.
In a way we’re like the coral that needs the algae to nourish us.
Our conscious mind needs to interpret the message we receive from our unconscious mind: Those impulses that direct us to move towards or away from situations, relationships, events, or certain eating behaviors.
Jung suggested that these messages are of greater importance than we realize because we are all exposed to all kinds of influences that do not support our optimal growth — like pressures at work or family tensions, social biases, relationship issues — all those things that cause us stress. More than ever we need this connection to the deepest part of our being so we can stay true to ourselves when stressed.
The messages come to us in symbolic language which is the language of our dreams but also our art, our poetry, and I believe our disordered eating. When stressed if we reject these messages rather than try to understand them, the disruption between our unconscious mind and our conscious mind can show up in disordered eating.
To restore wholeness and healing, we need to interpret those symbolic messages so that we can see consciously how food can be a symbol for emotional nourishment and how if we feel we are lacking that kind of nourishment and we don’t understand symbolic language we might misread the communication from our unconscious mind and reach for food — even when we’re not physically hungry. With interpretation, we can see that food restriction can actually be an attempt to restrict other hungers that frighten or overwhelm us because we don’t know how to respond to them.
As we learn the symbolic language of our unconscious we can integrate the meaning of those impulses into conscious awareness so that we can respond to them consciously and deliberately and restore our psyche’s equilibrium. We can get our balance back.
This is what recovery looks like.
So from the Rock Islands in the Republic of Palau, the Light of the Moon café, I hope to see you next time.
I would love to hear what you think, share a comment below!