Living Your Unlived Life: Robert A. Johnson

Living Your Unlived Life

Date Read – 10/11/2020

Rating 10/10

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Living Your Unlived Life: Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M.Ruhl

High Level Overview

Jungian psychology isn’t easy to grasp without years of study and practise. But this book brings complex topics into a more understandable format. The co-authors explain how the unlived (the suppressed elements of our life and psychology) and unrealised dreams lead to what we know as a ‘mid-life’ crisis, manifesting questionable behaviour according to social standards. There are various ancient Greek myths used throughout as a map of human consciousness. The book is also very practical with exercises to be able to live out our ‘unlived life’.



Chapter 1 – Realising Our Full Promise and Potential


– Living your unlived life is to bring meaning to your existence.

– Unlived life is the essential aspects of you that have not been bought into existence.

– Only awareness of your shadow can bring about a satisfying experience.

– By exploring your unlived life, we rise above fears and regrets etc. The real meaning of growing up.

– Castor and Pollux – Greek Myth for spiritual and earthly living. A roadmap for Human living.



Chapter 2 – Divided We Become As Up We Grow


– As Human beings, the only way we can make sense of the world is through polarisation and opposites. The world is relatable through its pairs of opposites.

– The ego, as it is developing through childhood creates a subject and object. An ‘I’ alongside an ‘it’.

– In the early stages of a Human life, children have their heroes – these can be family members, celebrities etc; who they look up to and aspire them. The projections that the child puts onto them is a part of their ‘unlived life’. Once these qualities have been realised within the child, they will seek new heroes to project onto.

– Early life requires a lot of projection to realise and assimilate potential.

– What we see in another and are in awe is an untapped potential within ourselves. A part of ourselves which we haven’t realised and integrated yet. Our unconsciousness does not become conscious straight away, it goes through an intermediary.

– Intimate relationships can become problematic when we see the other person as a ‘fulfilment mechanism’, something external to fill the gaps within yourself, rather than a mutually beneficial consciousness evolving relationship.

– What is rejected in yourself will be projected negatively onto others.


“Yet as long as the psyche unconsciously and indiscriminately serves the ambitions, agendas, and confines of others, we fall short of achieving our own potential.”

“… their parents refused to talk about their stories in the labor camps, but the children came to me suffering hopelessness that seemed unrelated to current life circumstances. ‘It’s as if I must feel the grief that was too much for them to bear’, one man told me”

“One of the most harmful things we can do to others is burden them with our unconscious material, yet we all sin in this manner. The best we can do is become more conscious of our inner stories, and thereby more understanding of ourselves and of others.”

“Our ego can only perceive reality in terms of oppositions, our very language and thought forms being dualistic”


Chapter 3 – Midlife: The Call To Greater Wholeness


– Between the ages of 35 (5th x 7) and 50 there is often a shift in the human psyche. Ideologies and convictions suddenly begin to be questioned, where the unsatisfied soul is questioning whether there is more.

– Our decisions in this earthly realm often take up large blocks of time that we resent as we get older. Such as marriage, kids, jobs we don’t like. That resentment, often unconscious, can lead to a point in life where we want to escape the jail of time we have created.

– In time, everything turns into its contrary. The ultimate is realisation of this is the swing of manifestation back the unmanifest, birth and death. A life unlived will eventually swing back to the more urgent matter of spirit rather than that of the earth.

– Complexes – The unconscious ‘figures’ that interrupt the magical flow of existence – the rocks in the river of life.

– Our conscious minds are secondary in influence than ‘complexes’ in our unconscious. They tie us into rigid patterns of thinking, decision and behaviour

– Neurons link strongly through trauma which increases their possibility of firing together in the future. This manifests in patterns of behaviour that will keep limiting our experience of life until the light of awareness has shined on them.

– Shining the light of awareness on complexes gives us the space to contemplate and reflect. The complexes are no longer invisible and can therefore be healed.

– The avoidance mechanisms we use are often about resisting our highest possibilities and potential, rather than primitive urges. Things are often too good to bear. Once again, it needs recontextualising and looking at from the opposite angle to most things people agree on as a standard.

– From the ego’s perspective, a touch of divinity can completely shake the foundations of the identity that we create for ourselves it is transformational.


“The nearer we approach to the middle of life, and the better we have succeeded in entrenching ourselves in our personal attitudes and social positions, the more it appears as if we had discovered the right course and the right ideals and principles of behaviour. For this reason, we suppose them to be eternally valid and make a virtue of unchangingly clinging to them. We overlook the essential fact that the social goal is attained only at the cost of a diminution of personality. Many-far too many aspects of life which should also have been experienced, lie in the lumber-room among dusty memories.” – Carl Jung

“It is the truth that anything undertaken on the face of the earth entangles us in the field of time”.

“Neurons that fire together develop a bond with on another and therefore are more likely to fire again. Based upon these patterns we essentially tell ourselves a story about how the outside world is. Any information we take in from the environment is coloured by the experience that we have already had the emotional response we were having at the time.”

“We seek structure, forms, and meaning, and then we become limited by our structures, forms and meanings.”

“In truth, the ego with which we identify is an accumulation of old habits conditioned by past experience and held together by the paper clips and chewing gum of memory”


Chapter 4 – Learning The Timeless Art of Being


– Benedictine monks stop their worldy tasks 7 times per day and go to the temple to bring the awareness back into the inner world. This gives opportunity to attune themselves back to the sacred. Their outer purpose aligning itself with the inner calling.

– The quality of our attention gives us a broader, more holistic and complete experience of life.

– We are so busy living that we rarely question ‘how’ we experience the world. This reduces the possibilities available to us at any moment. Attention is sacred.


Chapter 5 – Symbolic Life: Curing One-Sidedness


– Symbolic stories throughout history can be used as a roadmap of the Human psyche towards consciousness.

– Sign is linear. Symbols are non-linear. Human beings usually creates signs, not symbols. Sign carries singular message, symbol many.

– The word symbol and cymbal (instrument) are related. Symbol – to evoke the experience of something invisible. Cymbal – To strike together. Route of word – Sumballein (ancient Greece) means ‘to throw together’

– Human produce symbols spontaneously. When they try to logically create a symbol, they create a sign.

– Eliminating knowledge through symbols has created a vacuum that has been filled with the secular worlds offerings.

– To transform a collision of opposites we need to act out the unlived part of our life symbolically, not literally.

– When you choose one thing, you ‘unchoose’ something else. This is what causes problems in the future. It will create an ‘infection’ in the unconscious which will take revenge on you.

– Humans have created a series of rituals throughout a persons life. Birth, becoming an adult, marriage, retirement, death etc. These are symbolic rites of passage.

– Reading the world symbolically, rather than literally opens up an unfolding of mystery and interconnectedness not experienced through the linear world.

– There is nothing in the psyche that doesn’t belong there. It is may be expressed clumsily and at the wrong time. The more potentials that we can hold, the more fulfilling our existence.


“We experience greater awareness through encounters with that which we are not. If mysteries were knowable directly, they would not be mysteries.”

“The more invested and rigid you are about clinging to your conscious positions, the more vulnerable you will be to invasions of the shadow”

You can modify a religious ritual to meet your own requirements and thereby devise a medicine (ceremony) that is exactly right for your particular ailment – this is the highest form of creativity.


Chapter 6 – Active Imagination:Talking Back To Ourselves


– Active Imagination is talking to the unlived (suppressed) aspects of yourself.

– New form of prayer. Sufi tradition holds 3 ways to ‘relating to mystery’. 1) Prayer, 2) Meditation 3)Conversation (sobbet – the exchange)

– Imaginary does not mean unreal, it is psychically very real.

– Symbolic experience can have as big effect on us as physical experience.

– Symbolic and imaginary experience is ‘realer than real’ as it can touch us in ways which outer experience cannot.

– Use Active Imagination to live the darker aspects of your psyche with violating social rules.

– Figures of the psyche need to be named and related to as a person in the world.

– Active imagination must be an honest dialogue between you and the energy in the psyche.

– Record the conversations you have during active imagination on a computer or notepad. Anywhere fast.

– Focus on the energies and don’t let them escape so you can begin to work with them. Don’t take your attention off them.

– Avoid impatient jumping around from one object to another.

– There is no development of consciousness without ethical conflict. Let your consciousness set the boundaries as to no become destructive.

– 20-30 minutes is ample time to begin with until you build experience in the practise.

– As with the creation of neural pathways and complexes, they are created both in the imaginary subjective world and the objective world.

– The difference between a psychotic and a genius is their strength of consciousness. If you give your life over to the unconscious, you’ll become ill. A healthy ego responds to the unconscious with morals, ethics and values.

– Transfer fantasy, which is passive into active imagination, which is active.


“All experience, when made meaningful, nourishes our Humanity”

“The central aim of active imagination is to relieve the neurotic pressure of these unlived things and the anxiety of choice, and transfer it to the level where it really belongs, the celestial dialogue of the pairs of opposites, the song of heaven.”


Chapter 7 – Dreaming Our Dreams On


– Dreams loosen complexes. Provide wisdom, clarity and creativity from the unconscious

– Dream images are archetypal. Daemons, heroes, gods visit us in the form of people from the past week.

– Don’t rush to interpret dreams, host them. Look into it’s details (detailed imagery) rather than trying to figure out what it means immediately. What over why.

– Dreams are the psyche speaking to itself in its own language.

– The goal is to bring a dream in the present moment. Use ‘ing’ words for describing words. What over why.

– As you work with a dream, you may experience similar dreams but with subtle differences as you move the energy inside of you.

– Dreams are multidimensional and do not distinguish between inner and outer worlds. See how people have a bad dream at night and take it into the day with them.

– Dreams can also look forward – telelogical (from word telos meaning to pull towards the future in ancient greece)

– It’s the desire of the ego to try and interpret a dream.

– We dream throughout the day too, we just need to quiet down our mind to listen.


“What is dream? I answer, a dream is one of nature’s creations, a spontaneous, undisguised expression of the life force that flows in and through us. It is the intersection of the daylight world and underworld, calling attention to what is unlived yet still urgent in us”


Chapter 8 – Two Essential Archetypes For Maturity


– Eternal Youth and Wise Elder do not live easily alongside eachother. Yet, both are needed for a whole human and society.

– The eternal struggle of spiritual life and earthly life.

– Symbolic life involves play. Not egoic play to serve pride and greed.

– Play is a divine attitude that you can bring to any circumstance.

– Too much one-sidedness is destructive. Too much wise elder and we cut off enjoyment and creativity. Too much eternal youth and we have little boundaries and earthly wisdom. (‘getting rid of the ego’ is a sign of eternal youth one-sidedness)


“The creation of of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity” – Carl Jung speaking about Goethe’s ‘Faust’.


Chapter 9 – Uniting Life’s Opposition


– Black and white thinking is contradictory thinking

– You/them. Either/or.

– Contradiction is static, paradox makes rom for mystery.

– The ‘other’ part of us that we want to suppress is often projected onto other groups of people to create enemies.

– Everything a human being experiences is dualistic in nature.

– Embracing both sides of the paradox allows grace in.

– Good and evil exist in a contrary relationship but are not contradictory.

– A cause of evil is the absence of something ready for consciousness that is being denied.

– The more freedom humans experience, the higher the level of anxiety at the the level of ego consciousness.

– If enlightenment is ones end, then experience life as it is with all its paradoxes is necessary. Rather than trying to intellectualise them.

– Solution to division is not to solve it, but to dissolve it. Jung called it the psychoid realm.


Chapter 10 – Returning Home and Knowing it for the First Time


– Death is closely linked to ecstasy. (ecstasy means ‘to stand outside oneself’). The ego tries to get rid of ecstatic experience through fear.

– Dreams offer new information or correct misinformation.

– Paradise is within you this instant.

– Paradise comes when you can stand it, not when you deserve it.

– A touch of heaven when you are not ready can be destructive. If you cannot make sense of heaven it can turn into hell.

– To advance in consciousness does not mean giving up the world, but giving up duality. The material world is the spiritual world.

– 95% of the teaching required for enlightenment is building the structure that can handle paradise. The realisation of paradise is an afterthought.

– Be careful of ego inflation with enlightenment pursuit.

– Judas Codex – moving Judas to the level of hero rather than villain. It explains how Jesus asked Judas to prepare the crucifixion so that the divine redemption could occur. Collapsing polarity.

– Idea of reincarnation is a fanciful way to address the unlived life. Ego cannot imagine transformation, so literalises it. Reincarnation can be seen as the redemption of our unlived life.

– Anything seen through the lens of the ego will always have it’s opposite, and they’ll slowly grind you down.

– Anything seen through enlightened eyes is known as the creative play of God


“When we are in great suffering, we can be sure that God is too close for comfort.”

“My conscious cannot endure without a pair of opposites. Therefore, for me, the unity beyond consciousness will always be the divine” – Wolfgang Pauli




Where are you Stuck? – Finding Complexes

Ask yourself questions such as :-

-What situations this week disturbed you?

-Where are you sacrificing yourselves for the needs of others?

-Where are you procrastinating?

-Where did you boast or belittle others?

-Where and when are you not engaging life fully?

-What are you fearful of discussing with others?

-Where are you avoid expression for fear of conflict?

-When do you feel uncomfortable, nervous or sensitive?


The Doing/Being Shuffle

1) Bring attention to the content of your mind. What are you thinking? What is ‘objectively’ surrounding you? 30 seconds.

2) Move awareness into being. You cannot will this, it is. ‘Unravel the knot’ of attention and let life flow… as is. Notice the change of sensations in and around your body. 30 seconds.

3) Go deeper still. Notice the spaces between your thoughts. Can you hang out there and perhaps predict the next thought? Notice feelings and associations as they arise without judgement. Watch the mind unfold. 30 seconds.

4) Shuffle back to ‘doing’ awareness (1). Notice smells, sights, sounds etc that you can put a label on. Bringing yourself back into the earthly realm.


‘Who am I’ Exercise (With an exercise partner)

First thoughts are the best, don’t overthink and let the mind dictate responses.

Get partner to ask you ‘who are you’?

Respond with ‘I am a writer, doctor, nurse’ etc. (roles and social identity as standard)

Partner says… I understand you are that and feeds back. The asks again – Who are you?

Respond with inner qualities and more reflection – ‘I am sometimes angry, I get frustrated easily’ etc. (can also move these to present tense – ‘I have sadness passing through me’)

Partner says… I understand you are that and feeds back. The asks again – Who are you?

Even deeper towards universal aspects of your being – ‘I am mortal/immortal, I suffer, I love’

Partner says… I understand you are that and feeds back. The asks again – Who are you?

Continue until you get to ‘zero point’, where ‘I am’ is all that is left and reside in that being.


Unlived Life Patterns

Consider things in your life that you feel you must do, but are incapable.

What is unlived and yet urgent in you?

How are these expressed in neurotic patterns that play out in your life?


The Living Symbol

How can I express the unlived life while simultaneously not doing it?

1) Consciously recognise the conflict or tension in your life.

2) Let the tension of doing and not doing build inside you. It needs to incubate your dreams, imagination, and creativity without being acted on.

3) Ask yourself, “what is really needed in this situation?” What is unlived in my life that is required for my life to be more complete and whole? What could I do that is different, new and unexpected?

4) Immerse yourself in a private ritual/symbolic activity until you become one with it, until you lose your self-consciousness.


Dream Tending – How to remember dreams

– Eat lightly before bed. Bathe and become relaxed.

– Ask soul, saint, guide (anything that works for you) to help and guide you.

– Write down a number of topics and choose one. Make sure the topic carries energy for you.

– Ask questions and make answers to the following questions:

1) How is this issue significant for me now?

2) What is my deepest desire concerning this issue?

3) What are my fears concerning this issue?

4) What is the payoff that my ego is holding onto which is keeping this issue being resolved?

5) What would I be willing to give up or sacrifice to have this issue resolved?

– Repeat topic/question as you feel drowsy.

– Upon waking write down everything you remember. Make it flow as well as you can.

– Talk to the most vibrant figures in the dream and see what happens.

– Meet the dreams with wonder and affinity, rather than trying to analyse them


Dissolving The Split Perspective

– Choose a polarity in your life that you want to explore.

– On one side of a piece of paper, create a drawing that represents one of the poles.

– On the other side, draw the opposite pole.

– Draw a single drawing with a merging of the two.

– Draw (or write) freely allowing your psyche to run free.

– When you notice a synthesis, ask what it represents and be aware of the inner state that produced the image.