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.
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.