Expect the Unexpected: From a Jungian Psychological Perspective

Not long ago I was walking on a cliff trail in Santa Cruz overlooking the Monterey Bay.  It was a quiet Monday morning and I heard a strangely familiar sound from long ago.  I looked out over the bay and saw four Tundra swans flying over the bay heading west to an unknown location.  The Tundra swan has a low, whistling, plaintive song that is not easily mistaken.  What are they doing here, I thought?   I was born on the Northern prairies in the middle of the country, and these swans traditionally migrated through the Northern Plains each spring and fall.  I have never seen this bird on the West coast.  Quick research revealed that they are a rare visitor to this area.  In the almost fifteen years that I have lived on the West coast, I have not, until now, encountered the Tundra swan in my wanderings.

Birdwatchers know that one of the great joys of birding is being a witness to similar exotic encounters. Seeing a rare bird in a place that it’s not normally seen is a prize in the birding world.  Of course, many questions abound when this happens. Questions like: Was the bird carried here by a storm?  Was it an accidental escape from a local zoo?  Is the species expanding their range due to some unknown forces?  

Actually, another more meaningful way to view and interpret such events is through the lens of Jungian psychology. Better questions then would be:  Why am I seeing this bird/animal now?  What could it mean for my own unique life process?  It appears that sometimes the unconscious provides both inner and outer events with the expectation to “expect the unexpected.” It is not uncommon for dreams to have similar messages.  For example,  a male client dreamed that he caught a Rainbow trout in a place that he didn’t think there were any. Another dream from a female client who was starting a new business illustrates this further. At the time she was struggling with the lack of momentum in her new business.  She dreamt: 

I was looking at my Google analytics for my website with my sister, and I had well over two-hundred plus hits in one day.  I couldn’t believe it.   

These dream examples illustrate an important truth. The psyche at certain times in our lives seems to want us to “expect the unexpected.”  We don’t necessarily know why, but embracing such an attitude is what remains essential.  We may be suffering a depression, or giving up on an important project, but put another way, our unconscious seems to want us to have a hopeful outlook on life, and gives us our own personal images through dreams and synchronicities, to see us through these difficult and trying times.  Like my female client’s above dream related to her struggling business, the psyche gives us images of hope when we may be losing hope, yet need the correct, positive outlook to move forward nonetheless.

Sitting outside on my front porch while writing this blog article, another familiar bird song caught my attention.  I looked over toward the lagoon by my home, and saw two kingfishers flying by while darting through the trees.  Since I live close to a small ocean lagoon, seeing a kingfisher, though not a daily or regular occurrence, is not particularly unusual.  But what it immediately brought to my attention was Jung’s story in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, about finding a rare, dead kingfisher by the shore of the lake near his home.   At the time, he was going through a very deep and significant phase of his life, and he was attempting to make sense of this phase.   Just before finding the kingfisher, he had his famous Philemon dream.  In the dream, there was an old man with kingfisher wings and the horns of a bull, who Jung named Philemon. Jung painted this dream image, and then had the synchronicity of finding the kingfisher.  Following these events, Philemon remained an important inner figure for Jung; an inner guide with superior insight.

Seeing the kingfishers while writing this blog post about “expecting the unexpected” served as a reminder to me of just how intricate and interwoven our inner and outer lives can be.  And witnessing the four Tundra swans in a place that I would never have imagined was a gift for my senses.  I heard and saw birds from my past that linked me with the present, and reminded me of important lessons. Like an observant bird watcher, we need to pay attention, look closely, and expect the unexpected.

© 2011, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Depression, Dreams, Ecopsychology, Nature, Synchronicity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Expect the Unexpected: From a Jungian Psychological Perspective

  1. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks so much for this beautiful and beautifully-written blog. The imagery you evoke with the swans is really compelling as are the progressive connections you make to dreams and then to Jung as you move through your story. Great, great approach from a symbolic and depth psychological standpoint. Love it!

  2. By the way, I hope you’ll post it on Depth Psych Alliance as well. Everyone there should have the benefit of reading it too!

  3. Jean Raffa says:

    Hello Jeff,

    I live beside an inland canal in Florida. It was created in the early 20th century to float felled trees to the St. Johns river from where they were loaded onto ships and sent north for construction projects. The air above is a cypress tree-lined corridor where wood ducks, ospreys, great blue herons, and kingfishers buzz by every day like Luke Skywalker-piloted star ships. Like you, I find that their appearance, along with grackles, cardinals and many other creatures, often corresponds in meaningful ways with my inner events. Thank you for your lovely example of how synchronicity and the need to “expect the unexpected” are important psychological realities.

    I’m very happy to have found your blog and would like to subscribe by e-mail but can’t figure out how to do it. Can you help?

    My best,

    • Dr. Howlin says:

      Hi Jeanie,

      Thank you for the comments about my blog post. It seems like you have a beautiful place to watch birds as well. At this time I don’t have a way to subscribe to my blog, but I’ve been thinking about adding that feature to my site. I’ll be sure to let you know when I do.


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