When I took this book out of the library I did not intend to read the entire collection. There were some articles that intrigued me: “The Stages of Life”; The Spiritual Problem of Man”; and “On Synchronicity.” Joseph Campbell’s introduction, however, seemed to suggest that I ought to dare and read it from cover to cover. I decided to see if he was correct in stating:
“if a reader will proceed faithfully from the first page to the last he will emerge not only with a substantial understanding of Analytical Psychology, but also with a new realization of the relevance of the mythic lore of all peoples to his own psychological opus magnum of Individuation” (viii).
I do think “Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy” could have used more explanation from Jung, and would have been better on its own, rather than stuck in an anthology. But, then again, anthologies are limited by their overall goal of broad coverage densely packaged, as Viking Portable boasts, its Portables are noted for their “compactness.” Reading the entire Portable not only gave me a greater understanding of Jung’s work, but also gave me a better understanding of its relevance and practical application.
When I was a graduate student deference was given only to Freud by my professors. Not feeling quite up to challenging anyone or using my own mind — something all grad. students learn how to do many years after graduating — I worked hard to use Freud’s work as a frame for everything I was reading in literature or thinking about in the political and historical fields of study. I began to think of Freud’s work as a magical formula for getting to the not so easily seen answers to all unanswerable questions. I even convinced myself that Freud’s work was not about symbolism. Symbolism had become taboo in the field of literary analysis. Symbols were stagnant. They were formulas. So I shied away from Jung until I was old enough to understand the real mechanisms of stagnation.
Obviously, Freud’s work matters. But, not as much as my professors thought it did, especially when favoring Freud meant ignoring Jung. Jung’s work on comparative mythology and his thoughts about the collective unconscious should not be overlooked. His insights into the psyche are not limited to sexual theories and infancy, and thus his work is spacious and can move one beyond the personal.
Jung immersed himself in myth. He began to see, through comparative analysis, that many myths from all over the world have common themes. We are all connected — not through the internet as everyone believes — but primarily by the creation stories we seek to tell ourselves, and the narratives we use as a society to defend the means by which we live. Jung also believed strongly in self-examination, which led him to search inward analyzing and cataloging in detail his own dreams and fantasies. He sought to know himself, and to know the barriers and limits to knowing oneself. As he states in “The Relations Between Ego and the Unconscious”
“To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality is” (103).
And so we plunge into Jung, one of the leading psychiatrists of the early twentieth century, to discover that we basically go about our lives wearing a “persona” (mask), which we believe without doubt is a reflection of our individuality, but in fact, Jung writes, “one is simply acting a role through which the collective unconscious speaks” (105). Here is the rub with Jung: while truly knowing oneself is hard enough, diving into the collective unconscious is next to impossible. The collective unconscious, we must remember, is everything from all ages and all people; we are getting, according to Jung, free installments of it without knowing it and not really being able to do much about it. Who can begin to think about such a concept? The personal unconscious is hard enough to comprehend — all of my life not forgotten but somehow hidden within me? The collective unconscious seems terrifying. Interestingly, some of Jung’s insights came from his work with schizophrenics. He began noticing that when they were experiencing psychotic states they often produced thoughts or visions that coincided with what he read in myth.
After Jung breaks with Freud because he will not, according to Jung, push Freud’s dogma, he sets out to understand what myth he is living. Here is where I think Jung can be helpful, this question he asks: what myth are you living? It seems to be a good place to begin for anyone ready to reflect on his/her life.
It is Jung’s distinction between Individuation and Individualism that links the inward and the outward, that is, our reflection, and the benefit of actually reflecting at all, to our outward life.
“Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligations. But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfillment of the collective qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to a better social performance than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed” (122).
As I read Jung I could not help but think about the “rugged individualism” the United States offers as a narrative for its citizens. We are a country that prides itself on individualism. We believe in our individual rights and individual desires, and all our individual concerns. Individualism as understood and used by Jung is ego-centered, however, while individuation is open and allows for differentiation, which then allows for growth.We set out to be individuals. We learn that our country was made great through individualism. But, we never learn what that actually means, and what the stakes are of individualism. We only assume it means being an individual and consequently living a good life defined by money, family and stability. To the contrary, it means playing the role of an individual instead of actual being a unique person.
We settle for the mask. And, while it seems appropriate to the collective psyche, and certainly beneficial to it, that we should continue playing the role, in the end it erases the individual. You are merely a role. Most, if not all, roles we play are unfulfilling because they do not differentiate among people. As we clamor for our individual rights to trample on other people’s individual rights, and proclaim we are only asserting ourselves as individuals, we might want to reflect on what self we are asserting. We have every right to find our deep and inner selves, but why in the world would that self need to be purchased at the expense of another’s self?
It might be a good time for us as a nation to ask what myth we are living? and if it is the myth of individualism, we might want to reassess whether or not we want to continue giving so much of ourselves away by insisting on homogeneity. It is only through individuation that we grow. Individuation permits us all to be who we are without the need to blend into one homogenous role. We can be as different as we are and still exist together. It is radical thinking, and it takes radical courage to let it happen. Do we have the courage to keep evolving?
But, a dark shadow is creeping over us. For there is an overall feeling in our nation, and within ourselves that we cannot relax because now we doubt everything. Maybe everyone is bad? Maybe we do need to protect ourselves from…? Or we swing in the opposite direction: we do not need to protect ourselves from anyone. It’s all good? We no longer have the luxury of ignoring the other. We cannot simply cast off our doubts, however way we chose to do it, because our doubts seem to come back to us, serving us greater portions of fear. We fear the other or we fear all the ones who we see as persecuting our chosen other — either way it is fear that is driving our all in or all out position. We see our shadow and we will never be able to out run it so we may as well take a look at it. If we are going to be complete we have to look at everything, not just the good parts. Jung writes:
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real” (145).
It would be lovely to be what we commonly think of as a perfect human being, that is, all good, responding always without ulterior motives, loving without conditions, and moving through the world without anger, jealousy, fear or hate. But, as Jung states in “The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man”
“To round itself out, life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the ‘thorn in the flesh’ is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent” (406).
Perhaps many of our conflicts today arise because we suppress what is thought to be bad or vulgar in ourselves, and then look to project that “shadow” onto someone else, who then becomes the vessel for all our own ugliness. In an attempt to extinguish the shadow within us, we move outward and destroy the other, we smash the vessel we turned into a symbol of our own hatred. Whether we are a single individual afraid of not having enough for tomorrow, or an entire nation overwhelmed and afraid of scarcity we need to think about why we no longer tolerate other people who are different.
One hundred years ago, Jung wrote in “The Transcendent Function”
“The present day shows with appalling clarity how little able people are to let the other man’s argument count, although this capacity is a fundamental and indispensable condition for any human community. Everyone who proposes to come to terms with himself must reckon with this basic problem. For, to the degree that he does not admit the validity of the other person, he denies the ‘other’ within himself the right to exist and vice versa. The capacity for inner dialogue is a touchstone for outer objectivity” (297).
Years ago we could simply shut out the other by literally relying on our lack of technology. We at least had a fairly good excuse to remain happily within our own radius of ideas and viewpoints. Today more than ever, it appears, we do not need the other person in order to converse. Rather than sincerely listening to what is being said, we quickly close off all routes to dialogue and content ourselves with our technological resources that can feed us news and a few laughs without actually demanding that we converse or acknowledge the other. Technology is being used wrongly when it aids in keeping us ignorant, and therefore willingly less compassionate.
In “Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry,” Jung explains the power of the archetype, which has the potential to move a body to hate:
“The impact of an archetype, whether it takes the form of immediate experience or is expressed through the spoken word, stirs us because it summons up a voice that is stronger than our own. Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts the idea he is seeking to express out of the occasional and the transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring” (321).
Our primordial instincts are awakened whenever we slip into nationalism and call on our brothers and sisters to act out of fear. Fear exaggerates danger. It does not mean there is not a danger, but it exaggerates the real danger beyond our ability to respond accurately to it. Try telling a child who is afraid of water to jump into a pool into your arms… you will see a terrified child. Instinct tells him that water is dangerous, and it is! But, if you have made it safe then his instincts are not helping him at that moment; they are only getting in the way of his growth and understanding of the world.
Our collective unconscious might move us in ways we cannot consciously comprehend. But, clearly, getting to understand our shadow before we go out and act on every impulse, can keep us from plunging into the deep waters of the unconscious. What Jung, and also Teihard de Chardin herald is the movement inward. We must take a good look at ourselves before we rush off the precipice determined to destroy all traces of evolution.