Jung insisted that context is everything. He was right about that. In an inter-connected reality, every “truth” must be understood within its particular set of circumstances. It is only with this appreciation that I dare approach what could be otherwise construed as an inflammatory and outrageous statement.
Jung writes in the Liber Primus of the Red Book (RB) that “it is good if you want this greatest evil with your whole heart” (p.254). When Jung was writing this the horrors of the First World War were raging through Europe. In a footnote a Nietzsche quote from “Thus spoke Zarathustra” sheds some light: “To redeem the past and to transform every ‘It was’ into a ‘I wanted it thus’ – that alone do I call redemption”.
Jung’s point is a call to claim ownership for the events in the world. War may be instigated by a handful of sociopaths, but if their war cries did not find resonance in the collective psyche, war would not happen. “War is over…if you want it”, John Lennon declared a few decades ago. Some may regard this comment as utopian or naive, I see it as congruent with Jung’s point.
A few years ago I lamented the Bush presidency in this country, when a friend pointed out that we the people have the kind of president we deserve. We did, whether we voted for him or not. Oh & on that note, John Lennon also said “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there ‘d be peace”.
As long as we don’t come to terms with destructive and “evil” tendencies within ourselves, as long as we choose to let these dragons slumber in the underworld of the unconscious, they will remain out of reach of our conscious awareness and therefore will NEED to be projected onto whoever lends himself to act out our rage, greed and will to power. These are archetypal affects, to deny that they are not in you, now that would be truly naive.
But war has not been so much on my mind lately. (It is still raging in various parts of the world, I know). Oil gushing into our ocean has preoccupied me. I cringe imagining the pain and suffering to wildlife. Make no mistake, I loudly demand that those responsible for the mess and mismanagement be held accountable and rightly so, I maintain. But is there not another side? Is not anyone who has ever owned a car or owned some stocks implicated in the rush for the black gold? I know, the notion of interconnectedness may suddenly not feel so cozy anymore. The subtler reality is that we are all responsible. We are participating in the killing of the earth. We are puncturing an artery in our mother’s body (thank you SVE13), her thick, dark life-blood turning into poison.
The alchemists gave oil a unique symbolic role. It is present at the beginning and end of life. Crude oil is an image of the primal chaos which at this time is still spouting uncontrollably forth.
Jung writes: “If you do not succeed in producing the greatest evil….you will never learn the violent deed and learn to overcome fighting what lies outside you…….If blood, fire and the cry of distress fill this world, then you will recognize yourself in your acts….May the frightfulness become so great that it can turn men’s eyes inward, so that their will no longer seeks the self in others but in themselves….You cannot learn this, it can only develop in you. You cannot will (italics mine) this, it takes the will from your hand and wills itself ” (RB, p.254).
The eternal paradox. The psychic demand to let a natural evolutionary development take place, to surrender and self-sacrifice (from the ego’s perspective) and yet to be active and participating citizens of this world. Your way of life is a political statement, John Lennon remarked.
James Hillman echoes similar ideas when he writes :“Today we need heroes of descent, not masters of denial, mentors of maturity who can carry sadness, who give love to aging, who show soul without irony or embarrassment”. All three voices conjured up here, deplore us to not only point fingers but accept our role in a divine drama, that indeed we are the world.
“But fundamentally you are terrified of yourself, and therefore you prefer to run to all others rather than to yourself”, Jung writes. The Hopi elders were quite right when they urged us: “You are the ones you were waiting for “.
We are the ones who need to claim the beauty and the terror. We are the beauty and the terror.
C.G. Jung was a radical thinker. He was a man who ventured into unknown psychic territory and wrested a map out of the unconscious, which he thought was able to link the present moment with a remote past. To his surprise Jung found in alchemy a model that he identified as the basis of our modern way of perceiving things. In other words, a model for how we experience reality. Alchemy provides a pattern of transformational processes right under the threshold of consciousness, which all energy follows.
The patterns are there. Seeing them is the challenge.What is this curious practice called alchemy? There is more than one answer. For one it is the art of seeing beyond material surface. It is a way of seeing we have lost since Cartesian thinking removed the enchantment from our world. Common knowledge holds that chemistry evolved out of alchemy. That is true, but it was also the end of the alchemical vision, as chemists believed their experiments took place only on a mundane physical level.
Alchemists had a different vision. Alchemists knew that energy and matter could not be separated. They knew that there was no such thing as inorganic matter and that indeed all matter was infused with an element of consciousness. They knew that you and I are much more connected than mundane science wanted us to believe. They also intuitively knew what quantum physicists confirmed at a later age, namely the alchemical principle of the experimenter’s consciousness influencing the outcome. You and I matter! Our conscious and deliberate intent is much more powerful than the authorities in charge want us to believe.
No wonder that alchemists were discredited, persecuted, burnt at the stake and ridiculed.Jung saw and understood that. There is a heretical and subversive aspect to Jung’s work , at least from the perspective of our cultural dominant, which I cherish.
Alchemy describes a pattern of transformation. All creation and transformation follow the cyclical movements of falling apart and coming together on the spiral of evolution. There is one and it falls apart and becomes two and of that a third (something new) emerges and out of the third comes the oneness again that is the fourth. (This is a paraphrased version of the axiom of Maria Prophetissa, a third century female alchemist).
This is the movement of evolution and it is the movement in the mandala in Jung’s work.
If we transfer this movement into the evolutionary process of human consciousness then the falling apart (the two, the duality) represents a confrontation with a previously unknown content that ultimately belongs to the oneness that we are part of, but not necessarily conscious of. A constant flow between what is conscious and what is unconscious is established, which is best captured in the image of the Klein bottle
As materialism and one-sided rational thinking weaken but still dominate the Western world view and as we have brought ourselves to the brink of our own destruction, we must ask ourselves: Where are we in relation to matter, to earth? Where are we in relation to psychic reality? The South African Jungian Analyst Ian McCallum suggests that we desperately need to develop what he calls “Ecological Intelligence”, an intelligence the alchemists seemed to instinctively possess.
McCallum describes ecological intelligence as a way of understanding and articulating our evolutionary links to all of life, to all living things, as a debt we owe to the earth and as our contribution to the evolution of human consciousness. An ecological intelligence is also an intelligence oriented towards the feminine principle. It is the fourth we have been waiting for. It may be the next step in the evolution of human consciousness. The feminine principle is the principle of relatedness and of completeness. Relatedness and completeness are the opposite of perfectionism that so often drives our inner and outer lives.
Ecological intelligence can be experienced as a deep empathy for the other in the outer world, but also for what feels other within ourselves. The other as it manifests in other races, ethnic groups, but MacCallum particularly sees the other in the natural world, in nature, animals, plants.
It is the beauty of our evolving relatedness.
..for beauty is nothing but the terror, which we are still just able to bear. R. M. Rilke
I highly recommend: McCallum,Ian: Ecological Intelligence. Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature. It is a wonderful book.
What did happen to psychotherapy? The word alone can send unpleasant shivers down the spine of some and evoke images of state regulated symptom control in order to increase “evidenced based” productivity in the workforce and compliance with societal norms. It sounds sickening, but is true. We have created a narrow path of what is considered “good mental health” and in the process marginalized large numbers of people who do not fit the established criteria. Is psychotherapy supposed to be that? It is certainly not what I had in mind when I entered the field. And I would like to believe that the founders of modern psychotherapy from Freud to Jung, would be, maybe not surprised, but still abhorred by what psychotherapy has become nowadays, particular in institutional settings.
Psyche means soul and psychology is the science of the soul, while our word therapy derives from the Greek therapeia, which means healing. The Greek myth of Psyche talks about her suffering, not because she is “ill” but her suffering being an unavoidable “symptom” of her journey towards union with her love Eros and ultimately on her journey towards immortality. By learning to love and by enduring the pain associated with it we transcend our physical limitations.
Looked at from this perspective we are all in need of healing and guidance. It removes the prevalent and stigmatizing divide between the “healthy” and the “ill”. Our current definition of “mental health” causes more harm than help. It terrorizes the soul. The truth is we are all in the same boat. We may have different life stories and we may be at different stages of psychic development, but we all participate in the same divine drama of becoming conscious of who we are, which may be just another way of stating our movement towards immortality.
Therapists of the Jungian persuasion appreciate the soul. We are stewards for psyche. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve the collective and psyche at the same time. When Jung developed his idea of “individuation”, he understood that an individual following his true calling may be taken far from collective values and expectations. To walk one’s own path may at times take one even far from what is considered “good mental health”. If you have not ventured into the darkest recesses of your soul, no treasure shall ever be yours.
But we therapists must not fall into the deadly trap of believing that we facilitate a healing or that we have the capacity to guide a patient’s psyche. That would be a fatal inflation. What we can, in fact, what we must do is twofold. For one, we must provide a safe space, a container for the work to occur and we must develop eyes to see the energetic shifts and battles fought out in this space. We can hope, maybe even pray that the true guide of souls, Hermes, shows up and guides the work.
This necessary safe space is not unlike the alchemical vessel. It is both an actual physical location, as well as an imaginal space. It is the field created between therapist and patient. We can imagine this field as a crucible, an open vessel. This kind of soul work is not counceling. We do not give advice. On the imaginal level it is a relationship between two equals. The sparks and darts (transference) will fly back and forth. It will get heated. The imaginal vessel needs an opening for toxic vapors (emotions) to be released. A therapist will begin to “see” the circulating energy as old contents are broken down, bottomless despair is mutually suffered and only then, with grace, a new content in the form of an unexpected thought, an image, a dream will present itself.
At other times the vessel of soul work needs to be imagined as hermetically sealed. When new life needs to be protected. This could be when the therapist senses, “sees” the shimmer of a newly emerging attitude in the patient. Often before the patient has any awareness of it or is unwilling to imbue it with any energy. Just like a plant needs water and light, a barely present new psychic attitude needs to be watered with feeling and fed with the energy of intent.
All too often have the inner workings of the therapy vessel been forgotten. What has survived are the outer manifestations of confidentiality and the code of ethics to protect the patient. Both are crucial aspects of therapeutic work, but without an eye for the drama lived out in the imaginal space of therapeutic work, soul is abandoned one more time again. So you psychotherapists out there, in whose service are you?
Lately I have thought a lot about darkness. It seems timely as November feels like the darkest time of the year. It might be. But while darkness begins to wrap around us at an early hour, I see the familiar emphasis on light wherever I look. We all want to be in the light at all times and if we are not, move towards it as fast as possible. Darkness is the unwanted stepsister.
We experience darkness psychologically as depression, as the “hour of lead”, as the poet Emily Dickinson once wrote. A fitting image reflective of the heaviness, the stuckness and the dull, all consuming despair of depression. Why would anyone of sound mind find any value in the darker moods ?! Mainstream psychology seems to agree and focuses primarily on the eradication of symptoms via the help of pills, pills and more pills. Make no mistake, there is a place for medication in the treatment of depression, but I abhor the unquestioning carelessness with which our culture medicates its citizens, particularly its most vulnerable members, the poor and poorly educated.
But even the well-off are seduced by our culture’s one-sided infatuation with the lighter, more pleasant moods. It is so much easier to escape into substances or addictive behaviors. No joke, it is. Nonetheless, I argue that practioners of the healing arts need to rediscover the value of depression and the darker shades of being, because they are as much part of nature, our nature, as the darkness of November is in the cycle of a year.
I recently read that “you can’t discover light by analyzing the darkness”. This was written by an internationally best selling author and spiritual teacher. A very successful person and presumedly helpful to millions, but in this instance he simply did not get it right. But I can see why the message of tolerating difficult feelings and searching for meaning in the muck of one’s psyche is a much harder sell.
But is there a spark in the darkness? On a cosmic level, science has shown, literally, with the help of an x-ray observatory that a glow with the intensity of ten billion suns pours out of a black hole into the surrounding universe. For a long time scientists believed that no light beam could ever escape a black hole. They were wrong.
Is there meaning to be found in depression? More often than not there is. It might be helpful to differentiate the nature of the darker mood. Is the depression related to a loss that needs to be mourned? It could be the loss of a person or an abstract idea, such as the loss of youth or health, hopes, or the loss of the illusion that life is meant to be an uninterrupted state of happiness. Freud got it right when he said that our whole life is a process of mourning. Think about it, when you allow yourself to feel deeply into your being, are we not always mourning something or someone, even if we are simultaneously quite content and “happy” with our lives?
But there can be black holes in our psyche that can not be explained by insufficient mourning. When Saturn clutches the soul causing wounding and despair too much to bear. How tempting it is to abandon the soul to her suffering and find refuge in medication that quiets her screams. Jung descended into his own darkness/madness and brought forth the insights and techniques that today constitute the School of Analytical Psychology. We Jungians value the darkness. We know that only by bearing witness to suffering and by extracting meaning from it can a new morning dawn. Spring will follow winter, but in the middle of November there is no memory of that.
For those who are interested in a unique Jungian perspective on darkness and its psychological implications I have a wonderful book to recommend. “The Black Sun, the Alchemy and Art of Darkness” by Jungian analyst Stanton Marlan. It was in this book that I found the information on the discovery of light in the black holes. The book, like its subject matter, is illuminating the dark.
And with Emily Dickinson, wherever she is now, I would like to share that the old alchemists knew that the lead of Saturn holds a hidden promise. When made into a fine powder, it ignites all by itself. There is indeed a spark in the darkness of our depression.
The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC is currently offering a fascinating event series, the Red Book Dialogues. Today’s program was a dialogue between Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and my colleague, Jungian analyst Doug Tompkins. It was an inspiring evening in a serene, beautiful setting. Both Jack and Doug were logged on to Twitter and so was the audience who could send questions and comments via their mobile devices, which were then projected onto a big screen. Twitter and Jung? Do they have anything in common? Doug rightly commented that most Jungians were somewhat technologically challenged. But Twitter is not about technology. It is all about communication. Fast communication, with a lot of people and entities. Doug introduced the very fitting archetypal image behind Twitter. It is the winged god Hermes, the messenger from the underworld, who rules all aspects of communication and commerce. He is flighty and fast, I can almost glimpse him in the 140 character tweets that swoosh past me on the screen. He is often depicted as a youth with winged sandals and it was not lost on the audience that he lives right there in Twitter’s logo of the little bird. The moderator remarked that the German word for Twitter is “zwitschern” but that he could not find that word anywhere in the Red Book. That may be so, but let’s not forget that the Red Book was left unfinished because Jung became fascinated with alchemy, which he translated into the dynamics of psyche. Alchemists communicated in an oblique writing style that became known as, guess what, the “language of the birds”.
But Hermes is also a trickster and thief who can cross our path just when we think we have it all figured out and under control. I bet he was to blame when my iphone just all of a sudden refused to function and would not connect until after the event! Go figure! It is said of Hermes that he lives in the in-between places and that he bridges boundaries. Hermes also trespasses. He will not be confined in neatly ordered places. Maybe Hermes’ inspiration could help to bridge the seemingly different worlds of Twitter and Jung’s Red Book.
People send their “What are you doing” tweets into cyberspace in the hope to find or connect with others. In the process an interconnected web is being woven that brings the immediate experience of its participants to the forefront. As just one example I am thinking of the transparency the tweeting community brought to the recent elections in Iran. An anonymous mass of people were suddenly individual voices, which were heard. Now to Jung’s self-experiment as documented in the Red Book. I wonder if the cyberspace of the tweeting community is not the equivalent to Jung’s collective unconscious out of which he wrestled images and meaning and thereby created a structure and road map that allowed him to negotiate a world much larger than himself.
By far the most interesting question came from an audience member who inquired about Twitter’s shadow. The question kept lingering in the room. Nobody had a clear answer. I don’t have an answer. Twitter is such a new tool, it might be too soon to tell. The shadow by definition does not want to be seen. But from a Jungian perspective, we also understand that everything has a shadow. As a start, I suggest that we might want to look at what we project onto Twitter. If I see it as a means to connect with great speed to others and allow others to make contact with me, “follow” me, with little discrimination of who they are, then I am at risk of being flooded, overwhelmed and losing my bearings. Could one shadow aspect of Twitter be the disintegration of boundaries and the loss of a container for private, sacred space? When Jung traveled into the depths of the unconscious he was aware of the dangers. He sensed the treasures the invisible world held, but he knew that if one got lost in it the price was disintegration and psychosis. In lieu of clear answers I may have to live with the questions a little longer. Hermes is a trickster god, but he is also the only guide we have when we enter new territory.
There is indeed a buzz about Jung’s Red Book (RB). At least within the comparatively tiny group of people who either know of Jung’s significance in the field of depth psychology or those who, in one way or the other, appreciate the value of soul and psyche. So far the book’s images elicit the greatest interest. No doubt, they are magnificent and incredibly meaningful in the context of Jung’s journey through his psychic depths. But be warned, I say, don’t be simply seduced by their esoteric beauty. Don’t become reduced to a mere audience that applauds a master.
I wonder what the purpose of the publication of the RB at this time might be? One valid answer is a purely academic one and Shamdasani, who edited and introduced the RB, notes the importance of putting Jung’s process in a historical context. But that still begs the question of how Jung, or at least the Jung that I have internalized, would have liked to see the RB put to good use? We already know that he rigorously refused to be cast in the role of a teacher or guru. He clearly did not want his way, which we can trace step by step in the RB, to be seen as the way. Nothing is further away from Jungian thought than a dogmatic one size fits all program of how to understand psyche.
The RB follows Jung’s trail of how the School of Analytical Psychology came into being through the process of Jung’s “most difficult experiment”. Maybe this is what ails main stream psychology and other forms of the healing arts today, a stifling willingness to follow a well trodden path, even if the path was forked out by someone like Jung, without delving deeply into the chaos and mystery of one’s own psychology. Maybe this is one reason why the RB is needed. Jung records the development of tools and techniques, which later became known as active imagination. Armed with these tools we can walk our own path. Jungian work is all about experience followed by integration. Our own experience. The value we give to the imagination, the sense we make from our dreams, the relationships and dialogues we build with our dream figures. Jung demonstrates over and over again that only through the imagination do we gain access to the mysteries of our inner lives. What has been experienced needs to be integrated. The alchemists knew this phase of the process as the reddening. When experience needed to be infused with the red of one’s own life blood, which means bringing what you have gained in your imaginative exercises into your life. That is integration. Then you live your truth. So don’t be an admiring audience, Jung would not have any of it, be a participant in the great work of the alchemical tradition that Jung envisioned. The world needs it and that may be why the RB has been made available to us at this time.