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On Image and Duality – C.G.Jung – The Red Book Reflections

January 11, 2010
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In 1925, in the midst of working on the Red Book (RB) Jung wrote “It seemed to me I was living in an insane asylum of my own making. I went about with all these fantastic creatures: centaurs, nymphs, satyrs, gods and goddesses as though they were patients and I was analyzing them”. S. Shamdasani, the editor of the RB, noted that Jung found mythological work both exciting and intoxicating. Jung understood mythological images as symbols of the universal life force (libido) depicting the movements and dynamics of the autonomous, archetypal psyche.

Jung writes about one of his earlier visions: “On the night when I considered the essence of the God, I became aware of an image.” In this vision he dialogues with Elijah and his daughter Salome. Two thoughts strike me immediately as relevant for an understanding of Jung’s approach. One is his use of the word image.

An image is not to be confused with outer reality. Physicists provide explanations for the nature of matter and outer reality, but one thing is certain, our experience creates an inner image that is not the same as outer reality. The image is a subjective experience in the individual mind. It can be visual, but the experience of a sound or a physical sensation will also bring forth an image. A thought is an image.  No question, there is an outer world and also an objective psychic reality, but it is only through the subjective capacity of cultivated self-reflection that one can – with some luck and grace – gain access and insight into the larger, transpersonal realities. An image is like a symbol. It is not to be taken literally or the door becomes a trap holding you prisoner in a concrete and narrow reality. An image is a doorway  into another reality.  A paradoxical situation, the image is you and is not you. You are the observer and the observed. A necessary duality has been created. Necessary because all creation depends on this duality and the forever shifting dance between the two opposing forces. A oneness has been torn asunder. It is in the liminal space in-between that new life can be born. In the context of self-reflection the new life can be a new insight, the possibility of a new pattern of experience.

In the context of a necessary duality, it is interesting that Jung when contemplating the essence  of “the God”, encountered a male AND a female figure. The transpersonal may be a field of oneness, but the human intellect can only approximate the  divine mystery of creation as two intertwined forces. As above so below. Think DNA. These two opposing forces are often referred to as masculine and feminine, but one must drop all preconceived notions about gender or sexuality. Each individual psyche, male or female,  is made up of these energy strands, as is the objective, archetypal psyche. Yang and Yin are more neutral descriptions. Jung elicited the principles of Logos (yang, masculine, foresight, legislation, ordering, willful) and Eros (yin, feminine, receptive, related, moving, dissolving) out of his visionary meeting with Elijah and Salome. Jung writes: The way of life writhes like a serpent from right to left, from thinking to pleasure and from pleasure to thinking. Collectively and individually we are suffering an imbalance in this eternal dance that has favored the masculine principle. Where Logos rules order and persistence  prevail, where Logos rules at the expense of Eros, it degenerates into dominance and abuse of power. In the individual this tendency can be associated to the sickness of the soul, known as the narcissistic personality. The problem of narcissism has been thought of as a characteristic of a dying culture. I can see this trajectory, unless psyche is irrigated by the flow of eros and balance is restored one more time again.

I am less interested in why Jung’s psyche chose Elijah and Salome as personifications of his unconscious thoughts. These are uniquely his images. It seems of much greater significance how he engaged these images. A method that later became known as Active Imagination. A technique that strongly emphasizes the duality principle. In other words, the ego, the “I” as I know it does not disappear in the face of the visionary figure. One must hold ones ground vis-a-vis an imaginative figure. They are to be met with respect, but not revered as gods, because they are not. Nor are imaginative figures spirits who have all the answers and will tell one what to do. They also don’t foretell the future. Our psychic images are real, but the essence of their reality is behind the surface of the mental image.

It is in this dialogue with Elijah and Salome, in that sacred, liminal space between them that  Jung realizes: “If forethinking and pleasure unite in me, a third arises from them, the divine son, who is the supreme meaning, the symbol, the passing over into a new creation. I do not myself become the supreme meaning or the symbol, but the symbol  becomes in me such that it has its substance, and I mine.”

Not one, not two. The paradox, nonduality requires duality.


Psychosis Revisited-In Defense of Madness – The Red Book Reflections, C.G.Jung

December 6, 2009
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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.


On Soul, Solitude and Saturn -The Red Book Reflections, C.G.Jung

November 19, 2009
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Saturn devouring his son, P. P. Rubens

This entry is difficult to write. I have dragged my feet. I am struggling with how to make the subject more palatable. How does one write about Jung’s night sea journey in search of the soul in an appealing way? It just wasn’t a pretty and sweet story. But maybe that is the wrong approach. Maybe some things just need to be said as they are. Jung’s School of Analytical Psychology grew out of an intense personal and maddening process that brought Jung to the brink of his sanity. No pain, no gain? Is it that simple? I think that some things come to us as grace, serendipity, as gifts from the gods, if you will. But, unfortunately for the most part, the creative process is a painful, arduous and confusing path,whether creativity is expressed in writing a novel or in carving out a life for oneself that is truthful to one’s soul calling. The deeper one digs, the greater the treasure, if one can withstand the pressure of the deep.

In Liber Primus of the Red Book Jung writes “My soul leads me into the desert, into the desert of my own self. I did not think that my soul is a desert, a barren hot desert, dusty and without drink”. Who does!? That is not what we imagine when we think of soul.  Jung’s search for an authentic experience of his soul lead him into solitude,  away from “men and events” and he continues to say that he even had to detach himself from his thoughts so he could open up to his soul’s life. This strikes me as significant because thinking was Jung’s primary function. This was how he perceived the world and made sense of it. I think what Jung describes here is the necessity to let go of  attachments, distractions and identifications.

Imagine of how you make sense of the world. It could be through rational thinking or it could be through emotional feeling values, or more through scientific data and facts,or it could be through a sense of intuitive knowing. And then imagine that you deliberately let go of this mode of perception, which has become so much part of your identity. Jung seems to suggest that it is from this state of emptiness (or discomfort or confusion more likely) that one makes contact with the otherness of the soul/psyche.

“The soul has its own peculiar world”, Jung writes. Jung expresses his confusion and disappointment, I assume, that having given up most of ego’s distractions, the soul is experienced as an arid, barren land. No comfort, no inspiration, nothing to hold on to. What Jung describes is not the soft, nurturing quality so often associated with soul.

The image of Saturn devouring his son expresses what Jung initially found on his soul searching journey. Astrology  understands Saturn as a stern task master who teaches about limitations, restrictions and duty. Duty to what or whom one may wonder? I suggest that the often maligned Saturn teaches us to be in the service of the soul. The image of devouring his son reflects the idea of being robbed of what is the dearest to one’s heart. The barren land of despair, hopelessness, confusion,when no future seems possible. “But my soul spoke to me and said””Wait””, and Jung continues,”Nobody can spare themselves the waiting and most will be unable to bear this torment”.

To patiently wait and tolerate one’s feelings is not a popular notion in mainstream psychology. Yet it is a hallmark of Jungian  work.  It is devastating and disorientating to be robbed of the idea of a predictable future and to be robbed of a solid sense of self that can make sense of the world. But these feelings may be unavoidable when venturing into the unknown.  The conscious experience of soul life was the unknown, new territory for Jung. For those of us who wish to live a soulful life we may wonder, what is our desert? Where is our barrenness? Where is that place within us that is so restricted that no life or light can ripple through. Jung suggests that our journey towards wholeness must go through this inner desert.  When we are stripped to the bare bones , then we may meet the soul in the form of the other yet also part of who we are and a dialogue may begin. In  a Jungian sense, only then are we truly alive.


Depression-What to make of the darker moods-A Jungian Perspective

November 12, 2009
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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.


Consider your heart both good and evil. C.G. Jung – The Red Book Reflections

November 9, 2009
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As reported in the New York Times Magazine, the Jungian analyst Stephen Martin, a nonobservant Jew, once responded to his daughter’s question about his religion with “Oh, honey, I ‘m a Jungian”.  No, Jungian psychology is not a religion and the Jungian world is not a sect, at least not if it’s definition involves a specific dogma under a doctrinal leader. Jung’s comment of “thank God I am not a Jungian” is often quoted in this context. And yet, let me be the devil’s advocate for a moment, Jungian psychology always views the dynamics of human behavior from a perspective that is larger than the ego. In Jungian thought, all phenomena are understood in relation to the archetype of the Self, which some translate as the equivalent to God, although that  is not quite correct. This distinction was very important to Jung. Whatever the outer reality may be, all we have is a psychic image, including a psychic image of God. Whether the image is Christ, Yahweh, Allah, shamanic spirits, Buddha, the Great Goddess, or the “image” of an atheist belief, depends on one’s culture and personal inclination. From a Jungian perspective all these images are rooted in the archetype of the Self, which can be imagined as a vital psychic core that bridges humanity with a larger, transpersonal reality.

Psychology is the science of the soul. It does not set out to prove or disprove that metaphysical entities exist. In Jung’s self-experiment, he recognized that his entire life was the expression of his soul. “I am as I am in this visible world a symbol of my soul” he writes in the Red Book,(RB)p.234. In this search for his inner truth he discovered that even, or especially, the people we love the most are ultimately symbols of that search for soul. I do not think that Jung wanted to diminish the reality or intensity of human love, but rather add another dimension to it. One, I’d like to think, true lovers always sensed. The search for soul does not lift you into ethereal heights. It leads right into fleshed out life. To know your soul,  you have to live your life to the fullest. Consider the following quote from Jung: “ To know the human soul one has to hang up exact science and put away the scholar’s gown, say farewell to his study and wander with human heart through the world, through the horror of prisons, mad houses and hospitals, through drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling dens, through the salons of elegant society, the stock exchanges, the socialist meetings, the churches, the revivals and ecstacies of the sects, to experience love, hate and passion in every form in one’s body” (CW 7, para 409).

Go out and live your life, Jung seems to say.  Do not deny your darker impulses. They are part of your soul’s life. I do not believe Jung meant that we literally all have to end up in prisons and “madhouses”, although it may happen, but that we need to find the compassion, the “Mitgefuehl”, which means “feeling with the other”, of what it is like to be there. To connect to another in compassion is an expression of soul, which weaves a net between us all. Soul partakes of all experiences humanly possible.

In other instances, internalized collective judgments and values may prevent us form pursuing our heart’s desire. What part of myself do I not dare to live? Do I need all the prisoners in society so I can feel morally superior? “Consider that your heart is both good and evil, Jung wrote in the RB, p.234. It takes courage to acknowledge evil in the first place, it takes even more to see it within oneself.


Now we have Jung’s Red Book. So what? Reflections on the tasks ahead

November 1, 2009
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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.


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