At times relationships can feel like a nightmarish war zone. Whether the bond is romantic or sexual does not matter. Nor is it of any significance whether the partner is of the same or opposite sex. What matters is whether the “other” got under your skin. You know it when you feel it. An attraction, an affinity, a blissful roller coaster which can quickly break down all the coping strategies of a carefully created and nurtured persona. At times it may feel like madness knocking. That is not what we had in mind when we opened ourselves to another! Needs and emotions we never thought we had are gushing out of us. We may then find ourselves at a crossroads, though initially the choice of way is hardly in our control.
One thing that might happen is that all our defenses kick in and we regain what feels like ground under our feet. The inner whirlwind of affect is warded off ~ at the cost of our soul’s longing for a true connection to the inner other. The notion that there is an inner other, imaged and personified as a being of the opposite sex is at the core of Jungian thought. At first the ego knows nothing about this dynamic. But psyche needs to become conscious of herself. This evolutionary push towards consciousness is archetypal, it simply is. If we resist it, we will be dragged along, kicking and screaming and raging at the world. If we accept this archetypal urge towards consciousness, we can learn to breathe through the ride, as bumpy as it may be. Jung expresses this notion of the inner other in the Red Book (RB) as follows: “You, man, should not seek the feminine in women, but seek and recognize it in yourself….you, woman, should not seek the masculine in men but assume the masculine in yourself”.Psyche is bisexual. This is entirely unrelated to our sexual identifications. How do we then learn about the other within us? We unconsciously put (project) our unknown self onto another person. What we experience when these dynamics are enacted is a strong emotional reaction to another person. We might be irritated, repulsed, ticked off, but mostly, for better or worse, we might fall in love.We cannot help it because, as Jung says, “You are a slave of what you need in your soul”.
Let us consider the other direction at our crossroads. No doubt the less comfortable one, as the soul’s way always is. Welcome to our brave soul’s battle in her adventure of connecting to spirit. Because ultimately it is through the contrasexual archetype that the world beyond ego, the transpersonal, spiritual dimension opens up to us. “The part that you take over from the devil – joy -leads you into adventure”. How might one read this statement in the context of relationships? I opt to offer the following: to not resist the pull of your emotions, to make room for your love and hate and all the shades in between them, without allowing the emotional storms to take over. Not to be overtaken is often the hardest part and may require practice and support. Most important, however, is to never lose sight that while our attention is entirely hooked on the other person, we are always exploring and learning about ourselves. We are always reaching for and touching on an aspect of ourselves in the other.
Jung allows us a glimpse into the awkward and raw experience of his soul’s journey towards his feminine side. Writing from a man’s perspective in general and his own very private, subjective one in particular, Jung notes: “It is bitter for the most masculine man to accept his femininity, since it appears ridiculous to him, powerless and tawdry”. A woman’s experience will be different, but in most cases she will also struggle with her acceptance of the masculine within herself. This is when love can turn into hate. Because “he” is so dominant, so controlling, so violent, so insensitive etc. “He” may be all of that but these qualities may lie dormant in the woman’s psyche, unbeknown to her, but usually experienced by others. “The feminine in man is bound up with evil…..the masculine in the woman is bound up with evil”. Not an easy statement to swallow, “Therefore people hate to accept their own other”, Jung continues. The darkness of what we experience as evil feels too much to own and therefore needs to be projected on the one we are close. Remember a time when the one you loved turned into a monstrosity? I do.
“But if you accept it….that when you become the one who is mocked the white bird of your soul comes flying. It was far away but your humiliation attracted it” Jung writes. Only then can we claim to be a complete person. Only then can we venture into relationship. On one hand a relationship into the amoral world of the archetypal cosmic psyche and the other hand into a fully fleshed out relationship with another person. Only then may we be able to see and love the person for who they are.
Oh yes, said Eve to the serpent, lead me into temptation. For I want to know.
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.