The publication of the Red Book (RB) has rekindled much interest in Jung and his world. People are fascinated with its imagery and often inexplicably moved by it. What is it about this book? Many people feel its soulfulness, literally, when they first hold it in their hands. The Red Book is in the truest sense of the word awesome. But what to do other than admire it? Who has access to Jung’s at times elusive knowledge? Is it only the world of Jungian analysts who inherit Jung’s world? That would be terrible. Jung would abhor that thought.
Are those who have experienced an in-depth Jungian analysis his rightful heirs? Maybe. There is a lot to be said about working closely, intimately with someone who has walked the walk before. There are plenty of wonderful Jungian analysts out there. But unfortunately psychoanalysis has been assimilated by the medical model and has lost, by and large, its connection to soul. It is a shame. Psychology is the science of the soul, but it has deteriorated into a mere management of symptoms for the most part. Mainstream psychology has forgotten that symptoms are messages from the soul.
Jungian work is soul work. There may be other ways than the traditional route. Jung did not want us to emulate him. Psychoanalysis was originally conceived as a new “Weltanschauung, a new world view, a new way of experiencing reality. Jung was particularly interested in rescuing the soul out of the clutches of what he experienced as a stifling dogmatic Christianity.
In the book “Who owns Jung?” ( by Ann Casement), the analyst Joe Cambray answers the question with “the one who emerges from Jung”. What does emerge for you out of an encounter with Jung? Where does Jung take you? What does Jung mean to you? When we look for meaning we get in touch with the soul.
Jung held on to his soul. He held on to his longings and his felt sense of wonder beyond the visible world. He held on to his visions outside the world of reason. He maintained an unwavering trust in her. “My path is light” his soul says and Jung answers in his vision, “Do you call light what we men call the worst darkness?” “I have become a monstrous animal form for which I have exchanged my humanity”, Jung reports from the same vision. His trust is tested to the brink. He becomes angry at his soul.
I wonder if anyone has ever experienced that when trying to be truthful to oneself, following one’s path, one ends up in a spot where one did not want to be at all? When self-reflection only conjures up accusatory self attacking images? How can one have trust, faith, in an elusive guidance from the invisible world that has lead one so astray? The rational mind will say that one has lost it, one may feel insanity knocking on one’s door. Jung did. “My thoughts were murder and the fear of death spread like poison everywhere in the body” Jung writes. He knows a murder needs to be committed.The king must die, long live the king.
Jung relives here the archetype of the year king. A cyclical life-death-rebirth deity that represents a pattern of creation and renewal in nature. The king that needed to die was Jung’s idea of reality . “So the reality is meaning and absurdity”, he realizes, and he captures the circling movement of the archetype of the year king as it enters his consciousness with the following words: “Noon is a moment, midnight is a moment, morning comes from night, evening turns into night, but evening comes from the day and morning turns into day. So meaning is a moment, and a transition from absurdity to absurdity, and absurdity only a transition from meaning to meaning.”
The task is to tolerate the “absurdity”, when life shows us a face we don’t understand. To ask for meaning even then. Especially then. The challenge is to move with the spiraling twirl of our psyche. To let the king of our identifications die. To welcome the newness even if it still feels utterly insane. To trust nature. One’s own nature. That there is a central axis that holds the universe together and that there is also a central axis that holds us together. That we become an embodiment of the tree of life.In a few hours the darkness will collapse in itself and light will move in. Winter solstice. Just a moment in the dance. But a moment of victory. New Life! Rekindle joy!
Psychosis is the great other in Western civilization. Insanity, craziness, off-the-wallness is what frightens us the most. And for good reason, for one it is terrifying. And if that were not enough, we also run the risk of being immediately (over)medicated, hospitalized and stigmatized with that awful descriptive of having a “mental illness”. To be fair, there are of course psyches that are so fragile that they are hopelessly and helplessly flooded by what Jung refers to in the Red Book (RB) as the spirit of the depth. Much of this individual suffering can be alleviated by proper medication and designated caring environments. The psychiatric wards of most hospitals these days are not “caring environments”, but the problem is a systemic one and generally not the fault of the well intentioned but overworked and misinformed personnel of these wards. But the needs of this relatively small group of the population are not what I am addressing here. I am talking about you and me. The chances are that if you are reading this, you qualify for this much larger segment of the population, the reasonably well functioning average neurotic. What we generally deny is that we also have psychotic pockets in some of the more hidden corners of our psyche. Often a source of great fear and shame, these raw, uncontrollable spots in our inner landscape may also connect us to a divine, transpersonal reality.
A good working definition of psychosis is that the boundaries between inner and outer world have become blurry or non-existent. Remember the last time you completely lost it? Had a melt-down? Were so caught up in a personal complex that outer reality became skewed? This is where the other side begins. No problem as long as you can bounce back. The ability to recuperate from a moment, or days, or weeks, or even years of insanity is the real marker for psychic health and not having no knowledge of madness and therefore seeing (projecting) it only onto others. “It is unquestionable: if you enter into the world of the soul, you are like a madman, and a doctor would consider you to be sick”, Jung writes in the RB.
“I am seized by fear, but I know I must go in” he says, “the spirit of the depths opened my eyes and I caught a glimpse of the inner things, the world of my soul, the many-formed and changing”. The descent into the depths can be maddening and dangerous, but what is remarkable is that Jung also sees a form of madness looming when a person never leaves the surface. In other words, when a person is entirely identified with waking life and ego consciousness. In Jung’s words, “the spirit of this time is ungodly, the spirit of the depths is ungodly, balance is godly”. There is great wisdom in these three words, “balance is godly”. There is a time to be lost and there is a time to find oneself again. We fall apart and we are put together again. We breathe in and we breathe out. To accept the good and the bad. Life and death. Each cycle leaving us slightly changed. The secret of transformation lies in moving to this rhythm, consciously. “Depth and surface should mix so that new life can develop”, Jung writes.
Consciousness is related to awareness, but also to meaning. Without finding meaning in events, especially in our mad episodes, whether they take the form of a suicidal depression, a panic attack or an outburst worth a wrathful god, no light, no consciousness can be wrested out of it. “The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create”, Jung writes.
The editor of the RB, Sonu Shamdasani, remarks in a footnote that what Jung is developing here in the Liber Primus is the connection between individual and collective psychology. What that means is that if we, as Jung did, look inward, give credence to our dreams, visions, fantasies and moods, when we dive into them versus running away, we will unavoidably come in contact with the forces of the collective unconscious and that can be terrifying and overwhelming. “My knowledge has a thousand voices, an army roaring like a lion, the air trembles when they speak, and I am their defenseless sacrifice”, Jung writes.
What is being sacrificed here? Jung suggests that it is our own head that needs to fall. Growth and new life are subjectively experienced as something most dreadful and even evil, like our own execution. “You thought you knew the abyss? Oh you clever people! It is another thing to experience it”, Jung writes. Our head is also sacrificed, when we let go of our judgment, when we accept experiences for what they are: expressions of the soul’s life regardless of how psychotic they might be. I know this is easier said than done, but Jung for one has walked the talk before us. The Red Book is proof, it can be done.